Fish in hot water

Posted by Willie — 4 March 2009 at 5:39pm - Comments

So I’m 'it' today, and in truth I'm behind with some blogging about the campaign anyway, so it’s about time I wrote something.

As the oceans' campaigner in the office I tend to get asked a lot of very different things in any one day – and quite frankly don't have time to deal with or consider every single oceansy thing that crosses my email box. Over 70 per cent of the planet = a lot of issues…  the issues that are variously piled up on my desk include marine reserves, whaling and over fishing.

And we can work on those with the public, our active supporters, colleagues in other countries and other groups, retailers, industry, politicians, journalists, artists, celebrities and any combination of the above. It's my job to basically do whatever it takes to make oceans campaigning happen – which can lead to very different 'typical days' in the office indeed.

A big part of what we are seen doing as campaigners is what we are quoted  saying in the press – and obviously, that's a really useful vehicle to get your campaign message across. This week I have variously 'reacted with fury' and been 'outraged'.

It's clear that the two biggest issues facing the oceans are also the two we Greenpeace campaigny people spend most of our time on. Namely climate change and fishing. This has been illustrated this week by a report from the UN talking about how the world's fish stocks, already overexploited, are also going to be affected very badly by a changing climate.

This isn't news to us, of course, but a new report like this makes it news to the media. Infuriatingly the report blithely says that aquaculture will have to be a big part of the solution, which is rather ironic given that it is part of the problem, and causes many other problems of its own.

The fact is that we have already ravaged our oceans, trashed area after area, and fishery after fishery. At the start of the 21st century we find ourselves facing the realities of climate change, a burgeoning population, and degraded seas. Despite the old saying, there are not plenty more fish in the sea. There certainly aren't 'spare' stocks of fish to grind into fish meal to feed farmed fish. To see just how far down the food chain we have gone, you need only look at the fishing boats targeting krill in Antarctica. Yes, we are now fishing plankton!

To make matters worse, we rich people in the developed countries are transporting the problem around the world. Not only have we fished out our own seas (did you know there used to be vast oyster beds, and bluefin tuna in the North Sea?), we are doing the same all around the world – just to make sure there is fish in our supermarkets (can fish from New Zealand ever be a sustainable option in the UK?).

And it's not just the fish we see in freezers and on plates that are caught – vast amounts of others are discarded, as being too small, too cheap, or because the fishermen have no quota for them. Some fishing methods, like beam trawling, are hugely wasteful – with up to 80/90 per cent of what is caught being chucked back dead or dying. And don’t even get me started on destructive fisheries trashing coral beds, or killing dolphins, turtles and albatrosses. And then there is the problem of illegal fishing, over and above the 'official' levels.

But surely, someone, somewhere is managing this, I hear you cry. It makes no sense to just grab what you can, especially if you want there to be fish in the future. Surely politicians and fishermen have a vested interest in making sure we fish sustainably, for all our sakes?

Well, you'd think so. But the truth is, they don't seem to practice what they preach. Scientific advice on fisheries is routinely ignored – and the general rule is that the world's seas are open for free plunder, with only a meagre fraction being protected from fishing.

This can't go on. One way or another it has to change. And we'd like it to happen before we lose species, food sources and ecosystems forever – which is why were campaigning for a network of marine reserves, and sustainable fishing everywhere else.

It's also why a large part of what I'm doing just now is working closely with the film team behind the new move the End Of The Line (watch this space) because once people know there's a problem, they are more likely to do something about it.

So I'll be spending the rest of today developing ideas on promoting the movie, and getting the fishy issue out to as many people as possible – and crucially, what it is people can do as individuals to make a difference.

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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