All Quiet On The Sea Front

Like when you go to a patient’s sickbed in the morning, ‘No new developments’ was the prevailing comment last Monday following presentation of the FAO report on fishing and aquaculture. A mixture of tension, disappointment and irritation.
Deep-sea species endangered, a quarter of fish stocks overfished or depleted, or recovering (1%!) after the total debacle; more than 50% of stocks very close to maximum catch levels, 20% moderately fished and only 3% still underfished.
No new developments compared to 2004 indeed. But it would have been foolish to expect anything else, for various reasons.
The first reason is that when we are considering mother nature, a two year period is ridiculous. The recovery times for marine populations are multiples of their lifecycles. If a fish can live at least twenty years, as is the case for tuna or swordfish, then a population of tuna or swordfish, once depleted, will need at least twenty years to recover, and the process has to also take account of the interrelated animal and vegetable species.
The second reason is that we cannot expect improvements if no legislative or enforcement measures have been implemented to improve the situation during these last two years. Commissions, alliances, indications, strategies and guidelines crisscross the seas of the world without ways being found to make them actually work.
The third reason is that as long as information for reports does not come from research—which is inadequately financed—but mainly from markets (which react to the spilt milk, i.e. fish caught and dead or not caught because they belong to exhausted stocks), there won’t be any improvements. Information from markets arrives late in any case.
So, is all lost? No, not exactly, because where institutions are failing, the public can have an effect. Consumers do not surrender to pessimism and feelings of impotence, on the contrary they can assume their share of responsibility and power: they can discover and learn—for example through events such as Slow Fish (Genoa, May 4 to 7)—that it is possible to enjoy the tastes of the sea without plundering it, that markets can be guided, that laws should be respected and encouraged.
There are new developments. It’s just that they need to be implemented.

Silvio Greco, a marine biologist, is President of the Slow Fish Scientific Committee and Scientific Director of ICRAM (Central Institute for Marine Research) in Rome

First printed in La Stampa on 10 March 2007

Adapted by Ronnie Richards

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