Earlier this week I saw a public screening of the deeply (no pun intended) disturbing and compelling documentary movie ‘The End of Line’, which powerfully lays bare our reckless plundering of fish. Industrial fishing is so effective that scientists predict that business as usual practices will see the end of most seafood by 2048 – about the time human population peaks at around 9 billion – and about 20 years after we pass the 450ppm carbon dioxide and two or more degrees of warming threshold. Surprisingly, for me anyway, the movie points out a causal link between loss of fish, natural bio-sequestration of carbon dioxide and atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide; loss of fish populations will increase atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. I'll come back to this shortly.
The End of the Line chronicles the decimation of fish populations with modern fleets that use military technology and spotter planes. With nets that could hold thirteen 747 jumbo-jets, hi-tech fishing vessels leave no escape routes for fish and are indiscriminately devastating. The fleet owners show scant regard for poor coastal communities that depend on fish. Overfishing was recognised as one of the world's greatest and most immediate environmental problems in 2002, when it was first demonstrated that global catches of wild fish had peaked around 1989 and have since been in decline. Farmed fish as a solution is a myth with more fish being used to feed the farmed species than are produced. There are profound implications of a future world with no fish.
The film lays the responsibility squarely on consumers who innocently buy endangered fish, restaurateurs and supermarkets who knowingly supply threatened species, politicians who ignore the advice and pleas of scientists (business as usual), fishermen who break quotas and fish illegally, and the global fishing industry that is slow to react to an impending disaster. The End of the Line points to solutions that are simple and doable, but political will and activism are crucial to solve this international problem. The Web site for the movie provides more insight and resources:
After the screening we were fortunate in having Duncan Leadbitter, an international consultant from the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, and Genevieve Quirk, Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner, give their perspectives. We were also fortunate in having local caterer The Red Kitchen provide excellent food using sustainable fish. Duncan pointed out for instance that for every kilo of prawn netted from coastal waters, the indiscriminate by-catch is between 5 and 10 kilos. There have been reports of up to 21 kilos for every kilo of prawn caught.
Duncan recounted some of his experiences in attempting to get information from the industry and getting supermarkets to adopt a sustainable fish policy. Coles have had a policy in their bottom draw for several years, but have yet to put it into practice. Aldi (accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council) and IGA in contrast do source sustainable fish. Genevieve commented that the UK was well ahead of Australia, with all major supermarkets supplying only sustainable fish. She aptly compared before and after seeing the movie to diving under water without and then with goggles. Duncan and Genevieve reinforced the message from the movie - the solution is in our hands – by getting fussy about which fish we buy to put on our forks and into our mouths.
Greenpeace and the Australian Marine Conservation Society provide valuable information, including a pocket guide to which fish stocks are sustainable and which are not:
What’s the connection with climate change? One of the surprises from the movie for me was learning that the decline of fish stocks has an impact on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Research published recently in Nature has revealed that across the globe phytoplankton have declined by 40% since 1950, about the same time industrial fishing began in earnest. While the cause of the decline is not yet entirely clear, one of the contributing factors seems likely to be over-fishing that results in increased levels of their zooplankton prey, and this in turn leads to reduced levels of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton produce about half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and do so by absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Phytoplankton are an important carbon dioxide sink.
The research published in Nature suggests green house gas driven ocean warming results in ocean stratification that deprives phytoplankton of nutrients. Completing the impact circle, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide results in ocean acidification and oxygen depletion, both of which adversely impact on fish and extend ocean ‘dead zones’. Compounding the problems for fish, recent research shows that by 2050 there will be a wholesale redistribution of species, with ocean warming driving fish towards the poles on average by more than 40 kilometres per decade. This shift is expected to undermine biodiversity and further reduce fish stocks, taking more species to the edge of extinction:
Researchers from the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute recently published a review in Science titled ‘The Impact of Climate Change on the World’s Marine Ecosystems’:
A bottom line from the of The End of The Line? By choosing to consume only sustainable fish, you’ll be contributing to the survival of fish populations and an important food source, and contributing to the reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Thanks to the Red Kitchen, Helensburgh Lions and Helensburgh Public School for the opportunity to see the End of the Line.
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