Monday, June 4, 2012

A Fisherman's Brutally Honest Overfishing Analogy

As Mark Kurlansky detailed in Cod, fishermen often blame someone else for their own overfishing of their native stock. But are Massachusetts fishermen now becoming more accepting their role in the decline of New England fisheries?
"I used to be a hunter. I'd chase fish just like a guy on the plains hunted buffalo," said [Scituate, MA commercial fisherman Frank] Mirarchi, 68, "The solution to all my problems was to catch more fish. But now, with all the fish allocations, it's like trying to juggle a retirement portfolio."
A tough but fair analogy. In the late 1800s, Americans hunted the American buffalo to the edge of extinction. It's taken more than 100 years to bring American buffalo back from the brink, with bison finally returning to tribal lands just this year. Similarly, aggressive factory trawling targeting both big fish like cod and the little fish they eat like herring have devastated Atlantic fish populations (and global warming won't help their effort to rebound).

Fisherman have traditionally fought any limits on catch tooth-and-nail, derisively referring to any effort to manage a sustainable fish stock as "the anti-fishing movement," as if there are still plenty of fish it's only those pesky scientists holding them back. When the political debate's goalposts are "sustainable limits based on the best available science" on one side and "buffalo-style fish harvesting" on the other, whatever policy that fits in will inevitably be insufficient.

But conservation groups like Pew and the Environmental Defense Fund are increasingly working with fishermen to determine the most efficient ways to reduce take, and people like Frank Mirarchi are recognizing that denial won't preserve their way of life for future generations of fishermen.
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