On Monday night I went to the cinema and watched the new environmental movie The End of the Line, directed by Rupert Murray. Featuring habitats, scientists and case studies worldwide, it shows how our rampant and poorly controlled (or uncontrolled) exploitation of the global oceans is depleting (or has depleted) fish stocks to unsustainable levels. Nearly a third of global fisheries have crashed to date, and it is estimated that global fish stocks will be commercially extinct by 2048. Hopefully you will already know this: if not – well, perhaps it’s time you started caring. Sorry, this post is not directly about tetrapods, but of course it kind of is, because the loss of fish and other marine animals has a direct effect on everything else in the sea, and on a lot of things on the land too. I fully expected The End of the Line to be bloody depressing, if not downright upsetting. It was, but of course it was hugely educational and it’s vital that as many people as possible get to see it, especially those who think that things are fine and that we can carry on exploiting the oceans in the way that we do.
Captivating, charismatic and beautifully filmed, The End of the Line is based predominantly on Charles Clover’s book of the same name (Clover 2004). It looks at the decline and horrendous mismanagement of fish stocks, the continued exploitation of endangered species, the hand of big business in extinction*, the unsustainability of current fish-farming practises, and much more. Thoroughly inaccurate (read: manipulated) data had made it look like global fish catches were much higher than they were, which indicated for a while that – though catches in many areas were definitely declining – the global catch as a whole was increasing (presumably because new areas were being exploited, or because of improved technology). China’s inaccurate catch data essentially makes it look like things are rosy and that exploitation can continue at present levels (Watson & Pauly 2001). In fact, the global catch as a whole is declining: so much so that stocks will be extinct within the next few decades (Pauly et al. 2003, Worm et al. 2006) [adjacent graph from The Washington Post].
* Mitsubishi is hoarding frozen bluefin tuna and is, allegedly, contributing to the extinction of stocks such that their deep-frozen cache will increase substantially in value after the extinction date. More here.
Data shows that fisheries and fishermen do not act as careful stewards who sensibly manage fish stocks, and that technological advances within the last couple of decades have allowed the fishing industry to systematically deplete the global oceans in step-wise fashion (Pauly et al. 2005). The decline and loss of fish stocks has fundamentally altered the way in which ocean ecosytems are structured and function, on how marine systems can cope with change, and even on things like water quality (Worm et al. 2006). As large fish have gone, other animals (including various rays and invertebrates) have boomed in numbers, and these creatures are now being exploited. That might sound good, but this ‘fishing down’ the food web means that we are gradually working out each layer of the trophic pyramid; eventually we will be left with nothing but nematodes and algae. There is every indication that these changes have a substantial human effect, particularly in the developing world (Failler & Pan 2007).
If any of this interests or concerns you, you must see this movie, and get others to see it too. Visit the website.
What can we do, if we care? If you really must eat seafood, ensure that what you’re eating comes from sustainable sources. If you don’t know that something is sustainable, find out! Politicians have shown a reluctance to recommend reductions in catches: they need to promote policies that match the scientific evidence. Let them know what you think, and vote accordingly. We can also help by promoting the creation of marine reserves: to maintain sustainable stocks, we need at least 30% of the world’s seas to be protected, and we are currently well short of this. Visit Marine Reserves Now for more, and consider claiming your own two hectares of ocean! The seas belong to us all, not to those who make money from them. Donations to the makers of The End of the Line can be made here [image from wikipedia].
One final thing. While it is (in my experience) not that unusual to hear people saying that they have become vegetarian for ethical reasons, it is incredibly rare to find people who, similarly, don’t eat seafood for ethical reasons (I know two such individuals: you know who you are). I don’t eat seafood. This started because of my allergies: I seem to be allergic to all of the fish, molluscs and crustaceans that I’ve tried though, strangely, I’m not allergic to scombroids (the group that includes tuna and mackerel). However, in recent years I’ve stopped eating them too, so now I am guilt free (or, more guilt free than I was, anyway) and can properly take the moral high ground. Should we actually be shaming people into stopping eating fish (in particular from eating all that unsustainable sushi they love so much)? I don’t know – those who make their living from fishing will obviously not think so, and The End of the Line does not encourage this. Personally, I remain appalled that so many people have no concern whatsoever about eating wild animals that are, literally, being fished into extinction.
The official US release date for The End of the Line is June 19th: go and see it!
Thanks to Rose for the heads-up.
Refs – –
Clover, C. 2004. The End of the Line: How Over-fishing is Changing the World and What We Eat. Ebury Press, London.
Failler, P. & Pan, H. 2007. Global value, full value and societal costs: capturing the true cost of destroying marine ecosystems. Social Science Information 46, 109-134.
Pauly, D., Alder, J., Bennett. E., Christensen, V., Tyedmers, P. & Watson, R. 2003. The future for fisheries. Science 302, 1359-1361.
– ., Watson, R. & Alder, J. 2005. Global trends in world fisheries: impacts on marine ecosystems and food security. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 360, 5-12.
Watson, R. & Pauly, D. 2001. Systematic distortion in world fisheries catch trends. Nature 424, 534-536.
Worm, B., Barbier, E. B., Beaumont, N., Duffy, J. E., Folke, C., Halpern, B. S., Jackson, J. B. C., Lotze, H. K., Micheli, F., Palumbi, S. R., Sala, E., Selkoe, K. A., Stachowicz, J. J. & Watson R. 2006. Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services. Science 314, 787-790.