Friday, February 27, 2009

Peak fish, is it real?

You've heard of peak oil, is there such a thing as peak fish? Some scientists and pundits argue that we're already past the point of peak fish, and our use of wild fish is doomed to go down...down...down. Fact or fiction?

First, the analogy to peak oil is not good. Things would look different for our oil supplies if the little oil molecules could get together and reproduce underground. Imagine the different situation for oil supplies if a 5 year moratorium on pumping would allow underground supplies to double! Bonanza! Well, surprise, fish DO reproduce, and while we may end up running out of wild fish, the analogy to peak oil is nothing more than a handy news metaphor.

Does this mean that everything is fine for fish? Am I arguing that fish sex will save us from the doom of peak fish? NO. It is possible to use up wild fish, and we've done a good job of doing that in many places. Click here to see the figure at right expanded into a very cool animation showing the "fishing down" of most of our oceans.

Yes, we can run out of fish, but it's not peak fish. It's more about killing the goose that laid the gold egg.

What does the future hold? That outcome is in our hands. There's fishing done right and fishing done wrong, and if we fish right we can take fish out of the ocean forever. I won't speculate on what level of catch is sustainable, some say less than today's catches and some say more. Finding the right level will be a challenge but we can do it if we make a serious effort.

The wild card of climate change will make it difficult to fish right in the future, since we don't know what our future oceans are capable of producing. So a view that's correct today may be wrong tomorrow. But that doesn't change the underlying principle.

Peak fish is a news metaphor, and not a biological reality. We may get to peak fish because of human management mistakes, but that would be human foolishness, not an inevitable outcome. Unless you think human foolishness is inevitable...and then you should be reading a different blog.

thanks to the World Resources Institute for the peak fish graphic

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