Within five minutes of opening my new issue of National Geographic over the weekend, I was thoroughly depressed. The April issue features a series of stories on the global fish crisis. Most depressing were the stunning photos and the online multimedia content documenting the ever-mounting slaughter of fish — and subsequent waste of huge quantities of unwanted fish, or "bycatch" — along with practices that decimate marine ecosystems.
Then I started reading a a new report from Environmental Defense, titled "Sustaining America's Fisheries." In line with the National Geographic stories, it notes that worldwide, as many as 90 percent of large predatory fish species are gone. In the U.S., the report states that 54 fish stocks are overfished, and many others are in decline. By Environmental Defense's calculation, 72,000 fishing jobs have been lost just in the Pacific Northwest. "Despite decades of management," the report states, "fisheries and fishing communities are still suffering. Something is wrong and must be changed.
According to Environmental Defense, allocating a specific percentage of a fishery's total catch to individual fisherman (so-called "catch-shares") can dramatically improve the situation. From the report: "This study shows that we can simultaneously protect the environment; increase profits; provide higher quality fish; create more full-time jobs; and save lives."
It sounds too good to be true. But after seeing just how dire the situation has become worldwide, thanks to National Geographic's incredible coverage, I'll let myself hope that it's not.
-- Tom Yulsman