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Endangered fish, endangered humans

D'Arcy Briggs

February 15, 2016

The world has been at peak fish for almost 20 years now. As global catch rates have been increasing, stocks have been dwindling. Climate change has put an immense pressure on fish stocks, as has the rate of catch in order to not only feed ourselves, but livestock as well. The increase of waste being put out to sea has also had a detrimental impact. All of these problems stem from one fact: capitalism is a machine built to consume.

According to the most recent report from the WWF, stocks of tuna, mackerel, and bonito have fallen by about 75 percent; however, all fish species that are utilized by humans in some capacity have fallen by 50 percent. This also spells bad news for plants and animals that rely on fish to survive. Three quarters of currently active coral reefs and threatened and, if global climate trends continue, the world’s oceans will be too hot by 2050 for reefs to adapt. Oceanic “dead zones” are on the rise. These areas lack enough oxygen and other nutrients to sustain any sort of aquatic flora or fauna.


What is the Canadian government doing about this? Nothing. The collapse of the Newfoundland cod fishery should act as a prime example of poor economic practices, and while the species has recently shown signs of recovery, it has not yet returned to pre-collapse levels. In fact, scientists urged the federal government to classify Atlantic cod as endangered in 2010, but no such action has been taken. The government states that, while the species may not receive protection under the Species at Risk Act, they do under the Fisheries Act. No proof of this has ever been found, so says a recent joint study between researchers at the University of Victoria and the Ecology Action Center in Halifax.

Since SARA came into effect in 2013, 62 species of fish have been recommended to receive status of being at risk of extinction. From these recommendations, only 12 have been placed under protection from the Act, with only 3 receiving the endangered status, and most are awaiting decision from the federal government.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans economic implications are part of their decision-making process. "DFO is committed to ensuring the biological sustainability of Canadian fisheries while maximizing economic opportunities for fishermen, and takes into account science, conservation and stakeholder input when making its fishery management decisions," they wrote in an e-mail to the CBC.


A recent study featured in Nature suggests that, by 2050, by weight, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. This is a direct result of capitalism’s march towards environmental exploitation and destruction. Many are now concerned with damages resulting from ocean life’s consumption of “microplastics”—fragments of plastic smaller than 5 mm. These are generally produced when larger pieces start to break apart. Scientists from France’s national marine research agency found that Pacific oysters placed in water with heavier concentrations of microplastic produced smaller and fewer egg-cells, as well as fewer sperm and fewer offspring. The resulting offspring that are born are generally smaller than their control-group counterparts.

While wild stocks have not been noted to be in any sharp decline, there are some real implications. Oysters are filter feeders and have a fairly low trophic level, meaning that there are more animals that rely on them for food than they do. Moreover, the microplastics ingested by oysters stays in their system and these could be harmful when consumed by other animals, resulting in a collapse of populations which rely on oysters as a food source.

The idea of an oceanic collapse is nothing new. Global catch rates from fisheries have risen steadily while stocks had been dwindling since 1990. Global climate change has forced many stocks into waters where they become open to new predators and higher levels of CO2 are eating away at coral reefs and shellfish.

These environmental changes won’t only spell doom for animals and the oceans, but for the thousands of workers who make a living at sea and to the millions of people around the world who rely on the ocean’s for subsistence. Three billion people rely on fish as a major source of protein, with two thirds of Indigenous peoples living in northern areas of North America and Europe relying on fish as the main source of protein and many of these people live in coastal regions threatened by climate change, it isn’t hard to imagine the day when we pick the ocean dry.


We can work together to address all of these problems by supporting sustainable fishery practices, demanding our governments to take strong stands on fishing practices, and for all of us to say no to corporate greed.

There are many instances of successful campaigns to defend sustainable fishery practices. Last Spring, the Heiltsuk First Nation, in the Central Coast region of British Columbia, challenged and defeated the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in a dispute over commercial fishing. The particular case started in early 2015 when the DFO opened up commercial harring fishery in areas which are known by the Heiltsuk nation to have lower stock claims that what are stated by the DFO. The  Nuu-chah-nulth nation had failed in getting a court area to stop the fishery in their area while some members of the Heiltsuk nation attempted a blockade on a seine fleet. However, a variety of successful protest tactics saw the DFO pull out of the area and agree to work with First Nations on fishery management. An occupation of the DFO regional office in Bella Bella by chief Marilyn Slett and over 150 others, as well as blockades, formal requests, and public support from other First Nations and allies saw the fleet leave the area and new guidelines for future commercial ventures are now being discussed.

We can get involved with community-based initiatives around food security and self-governance. Moreover, we can put an end to an economic system that has proven time after time that it is only interested in profits and not our planet.

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