Sunday, December 05, 2010

Global footprint of fishing

WWF is examining humanity's footprint on the earth.  It's not a pretty picture--we're consuming 1.5 planet's worth of renewable resources each year.  Since we only have one planet, this means we're consuming the earth's ecosystems to support people.

To borrow a financial analogy, we're spending our savings account (natural capital) rather than living off the interest (renewable resources produced each year).

However you understand it, we can't keep doing that forever.

For us ocean people, a big question is how are we doing in the ocean?  The best answer seems to be that we're using too much seafood

How can this be?  Isn't everything fine if we certify fisheries as being sustainable?  No.  Sustainable fishing techniques are good, but using too much is another issue.  Fisheries footprint deals with the sheer volume of fishing on a big geographic scale.  We can use sustainable fishing techniques and still be using those techniques to take too many fish out of the ocean.

In other words, the fishery-by-fishery analysis has to be supplemented by an analysis of the sum total of ocean production that we're hauling out of the ocean.  It is possible to certify every fishery on earth and still have too MUCH fishing.  There's really no way to consider our global fishery footprint in the certification of a single fishery.

To help clarify this difficult issue, there's a new analysis that shows how fishing, considered on a global scale, has expanded and intensified in the last few decades.  This supports the view that we're taking too much in most of the oceans.  And, of course, the most productive areas have been fished first and hardest.  

There is criticism of the fisheries footprint analyses that have been done.  While it's true that details may not be correct, it's an issue that we need to evaluate.

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