Friday, 28 March 2008

Where is my fish?

The Venezuelan government approved a new law on fishing. Among other things, it prohibits bottom trawling. The president of the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commers (Fedecámaras), Mr González, protested saying it would mean there would be shortage of fresh fish in the national market, many thousands of jobs would be lost and the fisheries in general would be badly hit. He talk about 14 thousand jobs being lost. Mr González said the national fisheries' production had dropped from 545 tones in 2001 to 267 tones last year. All this sounds bad, doesn't it? Now: has there been a decent open discussion in Venezuela about why this law is introduced?

I will quote Charles Clover's The End of the Line: "Imagine what people would say if a band of hunters strung a mile of net between two immense all-terrain vehicles and dragged it at speed across the plains of Africa. This fantastical assemblage, like something from a Mad Max movie, would scoop up everything in its way: predators, such as lions and cheetahs...herbivores, such as rhinos and elephants, herds of impala and wildebeest." He goes on describing the destruction of countless trees and bushes, modifying the very soil. Then the hunter-gatherers examine the tangled mess and take 2 thirds of it and let one third of it rotten because there is no market for it. That is exactly what trawling is.

Fishing is getting harder all around the world. More people want to eat more fish. More people want to eat some particular kinds of fish. As fishing stocks have been collapsing rich countries have been introducing some quotas in their seas. Many of those quotas are not strict enough and controls are feeble, so stocks in many places keep falling. In some areas, there are have been recoveries. What the fishing industry of rich countries have decided to do is to go to Third World countries and buy fishing rights there. Then they continue with the indiscriminate plundering of the Oceans. They buy fishing rights to some Somalia's warlords who could not care less about their seas, they buy fishing rights from Senegal, from Chile and so on. The West knows very little about what is happening there, how the local fishers in those countries find there are less and less fish for them and for their market.

Meanwhile, fishing companies keep lobbying to avoid further fishing restrictions and to overturn some quotas. They argue if they do not do that, jobs will be lost and people would not have fish. There are few debates carried out in the open. The whole discussions are made behind closed doors, the government made modifications to their rulings to please the fisheries. In general, not much is done for sustainability. Not many companies or politicians care about what is going to happen in 20 years time. In Venezuela the situation is worse than in other countries: there is much less desire to have an open discussion about these matters.

Here my questions to people involved:

  • Has there been a debate where all sides express their concerns?
  • Is there a written record of all that?
  • Has there been a study of sustainable development?
  • Is there a control about what foreign fleets catch in Venezuelan waters?
  • Who is doing the control?
  • How effective is it?
Unfortunatelly, in Venezuela lots of people from both opposition and Chavismo would not care a fig about finding what is best for the country as a whole in 10, 20, 50 years time.

I have to say this: I love fish. Some of my favorite receipts have to do with fish. But since I know what is happening in the oceans, I check what kind of fish I am taking to my plate. I wonder if we would be able to eat an empanada de cazón in 20 years time in Venezuela.

Here you have a couple of interesting links about the state of the oceans (but I highly recommend the book I mentioned at the beginning):

Fishery crisis

What you better eat and what you better don't

Below you can see how the fishing of shark crashed a couple of years ago. There have been worse crashes, I just did not have the time to look for diagrams representing them.

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