Fish Need A Wider Spectrum of Voices

As Mark Powell (of the Ocean Conservancy) pointed out in the comments of the last post, Roger Rufe of the Ocean Conservancy said that we need to "use ocean wilderness to lead a new way of thinking about and seeing our oceans through a positive conservation lens, rather than an extractive one." And also that "we must shift our focus from the oceans as fish warehouses and dumpsites and focus on them as natural ocean communities to be cherished and protected."


But this campaign disappeared and, according to Mark Powell, it was because people weren't ready for it. He rightly believes we have a lot of work to do before we can persuade people to think of fish as wildlife. But I would argue that is not going to change with the current spectrum of voices, which all relate to fish as commodities.

We need high profile groups out there pushing for people to stop eating fish altogether, not because that is what will happen or because it's even the best solution. We need it because those voices will widen the spectrum of options and people will be more willing to accept the requests of the other voices (to moderate seafood intake or avoid only certain species, for instance).

I turn to some research presented in Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness:

When charities ask you for a donation, they typically offer you a range of options such as $100, $250, $1,000, $5,000, or 'other'. If the charity's fund-raisers have an idea of what they are doing, these values are not picked at random, because the options influence the amount of money people decide to donate. People will give more if the options are $100, $250, $1,000, and $5,000 than if the options are $50, $75, $100, and $150. In many domains, the evidence shows that, within reason, the more you ask for, the more you tend to get.

As the late and great environmentalist David Brower, former executive director of the Sierra Club, once remarked: he needed the Paul Watsons and Sea Shepherds of the world to make his requests seem reasonable.

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In my view the best hope for the oceans would be, pace Jennifer and Roger Rufe, if we harvested them wisely. I think it is a mistake to couple "fish warehouses" and "dumpsites" since these are two disparate -- and opposing -- concepts. If we prudently exploit the sea as a food source, we would have a very strong incentive to NOT use it as dumpsite, for obvious reasons.

Protecting fish populations would be better achieved by protecting habitats, especially reefs. Do this not by telling people what they can or can't eat, but by giving them (and other stakeholders, like fisheries) a reason to care.

Further, smart ocean farming leaves a smaller carbon footprint than does land-based agriculture (per calories protein extracted). Therefore if we stopped eating seafood, we would place even more stresses on the land, as humans would seek succor elsewhere.

"We need high profile groups out there pushing for people to stop eating fish" ... for the good of the oceans!

Put another way, the way to a conservator's brain is through her stomach.

In my view.

I stopped eating fish years ago and have been very vocal about it.

There is a huge distance that must be crossed before public opposition to overfishing becomes anywhere near as powerful as the fishing lobby.

People have been pushed into eating fish (and chicken, the other white fish!) by the health horror stories coming out of the meat industry whereas they should have been pushed into eating fruits, vegetables and grains. That way they save themselves and the planet.

I submit that no campaign to not eat fish will be able to move the Overton window on fisheries far or fast enough. The vested interests in keeping fisheries open to plunder will simply attempt to move it the other way, in the same way that vested interests have been moving the Overton window on AGW the other way in the climate debate. The result, conceptually, is a wider window; less agreement in the community on a single issue, with a spectrum of idiocy between idiotic extreme positions. That's contemptible.

The solution you demand to a problem should be a sensible one. You should strike directly for it and allow no compromise which actually reduces its effect. If you fail the first time, you should drop it and try again. Your focus should be lawmakers and elements of the fisheries industry; the general public should be approached to gain political support, not a change in eating behaviour.

If you deem this to be impossible (which would be foolish - a 'divide and conquer' approach to elements of the fisheries industry should be possible, since they should be able to see they're competing over a limited and rapidly depleting resource) then decimation of marine biodiversity is inevitable. The holocene mass extinction won't be stopped by consumers feeling bad. There are millions of species to worry about and the average person can only care about a few things at once.

By Nils Ross (not verified) on 30 Apr 2009 #permalink

We're talking about another solution to the overfishing crisis at my blog, Southern Fried Science.

Growing food in other ways (and no, I'm not just talking about fish farming) will reduce demand on wild-caught fish. Emerging space-based technology can not only solve our food crisis, but also our energy crisis and many other problems.

Check it out here, I'd love to see what you guys think:…

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