Tuesday, November 07, 2006


To hear the full audio broadcast (16 minutes) click on the title above.

[Part of script for Fish 2048: an audio broadcast/podcast with news clips, interview bits with lead author, snippets of music]

[opens with short clip from The Waterboys "Fisherman's Blues"; CBC and CBS news announcers, etc]

That's what kills me about mass media news. Horrors never known can be reported in those news voices, followed immediately by the trivial. As though the disappearance of fish in the sea is just another story.

Personally, I thought this woman's reaction was a little more realistic:

[clip "Oh My God I did not know that" with scream]

A homophobic preacher admists hiring a gay prostitute- that is interesting. Everyone is cliking to find out more. The end of seafood - not so much.

These days, notice I did not say "in these End Times," environmental news requires a horror sound track, with cues for when we should cry or scream. I suppose that is part of the mission of Radio Ecoshock.

[chirpy news voice of total collapse]

[audio cue: "moan now".]

This is Alex Smith, and we're taking a quick tour through the latest horror flick known as reality.

The essential facts are these:

1. In the May 2003 issue of the journal Nature, two scientsts from Canada's maritime provinces released their study "Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities." Their research showed that 90 percent of all large fish, the upper tier of predators, were already gone - fish like Tuna, Marlin, Swordfish, Sharks, Cod, and Halibut. And they found that it only takes 10 to 15 years for industrialized fishing to grind down any new stock to 10 percent of the original population.

[clip: We've won the war - using deep sea surveillance techniques originally developed for the military]

The few big fish that are left are noticably smaller, one fifth to one half the size caught by a previous generation.

The authors called for a global effort to reduce the impacts of fishing, including fewer boats, reduced bycatch, an end to government subsidies, and for the most threatened species, cutting the catch in half. Little was done.

Norman Myers said: "“We are in massive denial and continue to bicker over the last shrinking numbers of survivors, employing satellites and sensors to catch the last fish left.... “We have to understand how close to extinction some of these populations really are. And we must act now, before they have reached the point of no return. I want there to be hammerhead sharks and bluefin tuna around when my five-year-old son grows up. If present fishing levels persist, these great fish will go the way of the dinosaurs.”

2. In late October, 2006, Dr. Worm was again the lead author in a major study by 14 scientists from Canada, the UK, the United States, Panama, and Australia. Institutions like Stanford University, the Scripps Insitutute of Oceanography, and Stockholm University were represented. It is titled "Impact of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services", and published in the journal Science for November 3rd.

The team analyzed mountains of data about fish catches from around the world, going back 50 years, and even cross-checked against historical records up to a thousand years old. Dr. Worm couldn't believe the computer analysis, and so cross-checked the results by hand. In a moment of disbelief, the figures showed that about 29% of the world's edible fish were already collapsed by 2003. That's over 2,2000 edible species no longer commercially viable. If humans continue to harvest ocean resources at the current rate, while polluting the sea and atmosphere, the graph of fish population drops to nothing, around the year 2048.

The report was cross-checked by an array of the world's top fisheries scientists. But it is common knowledge that we are fishing out the sea. Report after report has showed it. More and more areas are closed to fishing, including the record-setting end of the great 500-year-long cod fishery off Canada's East Coast.

According to the study, species below 10% of their original size include many types of salmon, King crab, some scallops and oysters, tuna, trout, shrimp, and sharks.

All this comes as diet-challenged first-worlders are being advised to eat lots more fish to get those Omega-3 fatty acids so important as brain food.

[a series of quotes from lead author Boris Worms of Dalhousie University, and others, found only in the audio version]

The study also showed the importance of biodiversity. Ocean life is very inter-linked, with special services rendered by both small and large organisms. When part of that natural mechanism is removed, the whole breaks down. And the speed of decline is increasing year by year.


Not all scientists agree with the paper's results, and some fishing nations have gone on the offensive against such dire conclusions. For one thing, even the authors admit they hope to stimulate public concern to head off the problem well before sea food disappear forever.

Worm and his team of scientists want fisheries to be managed for sustainable yields, with real control over sources of ocean pollution, better maintenance of habitat, and big ocean reserves. Like the recent Stern report on climate, these scientists say such moves are an investment in a liveable future, with real economic payoffs if we act, and greater - almost unimaginable - penalties if we go on with business as usual. More than a billion people depend on seafood as their main source of protein.

"It's not too late. We can turn this around," Worm says. "But less than 1% of the global ocean is effectively protected right now." He gives better management of stocks in the North Pacific off Alaska as an example of how fishing can be done sustainably. Sadly though, most of the rest of the world is becoming depleted, fast.

"Ocean pirates are stealing up to nine billion US dollars worth of fish a year from some of the world's poorest people." says Nilesh Goundar, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace Australia. Greenpeace is calling for 40% of the oceans to become protected reserves - to save the world's seafood.

Just recently, the United Nations is trying to implement on the most destructive fishing practice: trawling of the deep sea bed, often compared to clear-cutting on land. To it's international shame, Canada is one of the few countries opposing the ban - even when Canadian scientists are warning of an end to global fisheries. The same kind of protect-the-jobs thinking by Canadian politicians led to the total collapse of one of the richest fisheries in the world, the East Coast Cod.

Even with new ocean protection measures, events on land are also damaging ocean life. Deforestation cuts into marine weather cycles as well, and of course global warming impacts fish and all ocean life. Some marine testing stations in Canada have measured an increase of more than 4 degrees in the ocean. And carbon dioxide from coal plants and vehicles is making the ocean more acidic, hampering the development of tiny sea creatures and coral that support ocean life.

Dr's Worm and Myers have also written papers on managing fisheries during climate change. And that's something you are going to hear more about, as warmer waters power-up the hurricanes, and fresher waters dilute climate-regulating ocean mechanisms like the Gulf Stream. Extinctions of whole ocean ecosystems are possible.

Even scientists have leaks to the media these days. An email to collegues was sent to the Seattle Times by mistake. In it, Dr. Worm hoped that his projection of ocean death would serve as, quote, [a] "news hook to get people's attention...."One reason why nobody cares about marine biodiversity is that there seemed no clear end in sight...Well, it's time to wake up -- If the current trend continues we will see drastic consequences in our own lifetime."

This report certainly got my attention, despite lame efforts to cover it by mass media news entertainment. I hope it got yours too.

This broadcast is from Alex Smith, of Radio Ecoshock, the Net's only 24 hour all environment radio station at www.ecoshock.org.

Credits: Voice clips are from the Today Show on BBC4 and from ABC National in Australia. We had music snippets opening with the Waterboy's tune "Fisherman's Blues," a snatch from Bob Holman's "We Are the Dinosaur" and ending with the Marvelette's classic "Too Many Fish in the Sea" - a common expression until now.

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