Friday, August 27, 2010

Too many boats chasing too few fish

Why are fishermen complaining about conserving fish? Don't we need fish to have good fishing?

Even though it seems stupid, fishermen are complaining about ending overfishing in the US and in Europe.

What's going on? Fishermen are shooting the messenger, the scientists and managers who are saying we have to stop catching fish faster than they can reproduce.

It's not a new story, witness the children's story about overfishing. Ok, it's not exactly about overfishing, but it might as well be about overfishing.

Why does overfishing happen?

The biggest problem in modern fishing is too many fishing boats chasing too few fish--overcapacity. This simple statement applies nearly everywhere. Most people know it's bad for the fish to have too many boats, and it's also true that it's bad for fishermen. Richard Allen is a former fisherman turned consultant, and he says it's bad for fishermen to have too many boats chasing fish.

With too many boats, no fisherman makes a good living. Everyone spends lots of time and money chasing the ever-declining fish, and never catching enough to make ends meet.

But if managers propose cutting back on fishing fleets, fishermen complain about losing their jobs. Wait a minute, these are McJobs that people are losing--lousy part-time jobs that are lousy even with widespread and often counter-productive government subsidies.

The driving forces are similar everywhere. A free and open resource is there for the taking, and everybody and their brother rounds up a boat and goes out fishing. Until there are so many boats that nobody is making much money.

It's an interesting conundrum to see fishermen defending McJobs, when the same jobs in a big-box store would be reviled. Low wages, part-time work, etc. It seems obvious that they're not defending reality, they're defending the myth of fishing, the dream, the reason they got into fishing. A chance to do your own thing, make a living, and maybe get rich. It can work for one, but not for all. It's time to do a better job of reducing bloated and over-subsidized fishing fleets. It's better for fish and fishermen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said. An example of "chasing the dream" can be found in Alaska. Too many boats wiped nearly wiped out the salmon fishery by 1970. So, today they pump billions of hatchery salmon into our ocean to "keep the dream alive". Not sustainable in my eyes. The ocean probably can't carry the additional load of billions of hungry salmon.

Reduce the commercials catch and stick to aquaculture. Jacques Cousteau said that decades ago.

James Beal