Where have all the fish gone? (we ate them)

The world’s oceans are in deep, deep trouble. Industrialised fishing, in full swing since around 1950, has in essence waged a war against the marine ecosystem. And the bad news is: we’re winning. Species extinctions, population crashes and vast disruption to marine food chains are all the direct consequences of overfishing.

And that’s before you factor in ocean acidification, pollution and dramatic changes in ocean surface temperatures arising from global warming. All in all, the prognosis is grim. Nor is there some ready fix. “The recovery from the changes we’re making will probably take a million years”, according to Achim Steiner,  director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Steiner’s comments assume of course that we stop what we’re doing right now, in order to give the marine ecosystem some chance of recovery.

Since 1970, the tonnage of the global fishing fleets has doubled. In 2005, for example, over 125 million tons of fish were landed. Tons give a poor sense of the slaughter. In terms of individual fish killed, that tonnage probably represents 5-10 billion individual creatures. Oceanic fish are as much wild animals as lions or tigers, yet 99% of the world’s oceans are effectively killing zones, open to all comers to take as much as they want.

Last night in the IFI in Dublin’s Temple Bar there was a solitary showing of the new documentary, The End of the Line, based on the excellent book by former Daily Telegraph journalist, Charles Clover. The screening was attended by one of the film’s producers, Claire Lewis, who hosted a lively Q&A after the film. (see trailer below)

It’s disappointing in the extreme that an important documentary about the perilous state of an area the covers 70% of the world’s surface will only be seen once in Dublin, by barely 100 cinema-goers, many of whom are from NGOs, voluntary groups, etc. Claire is keen to have the film shown more widely, especially as an educational exercise for students. Unfortunately, the IFI is currently undergoing refurbishment and is unable to host daytime educational screenings until the end of this year. (There may be a showing of the film on More4 round October 20th next, will post details to this blog if/when they become available).

A good place to start with this film is the Department of Education. If as the UNEP now predicts, there will be no commercial fisheries left on earth by 2048 – less than four decades away – shouldn’t the young, the very people who are going to inherit this disaster, at least be told?

The End of the Line is a powerful, cogent call to action that will move all but the wilfully ignorant into taking urgent action to reverse the current trajectory that takes us towards the imminent and irreversible annihilation of life in our oceans.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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