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“Deceptive” Greenpeace video highlights problems of global overfishing

ANYONE watching the graphic images of death and mayhem in the Greenpeace video (below) on industrial tuna fishing will doubtless be shocked and horrified. How can such waste and destruction be allowed to continue?

But it seems that Greenpeace may only be telling one side of the story. The video – which has been labelled “propaganda” and “deceptive” by some international commercial fishing organisations – depicts bycatch of sharks, billfish and various other marine animals as part of the tuna purse seining industry.

Greenpeace and other environment groups want to ban purse seining in favour of a tuna fishing industry based on poling. This video – which is obviously edited to present purse seining in the worst possible light – is part of a suite of PR and marketing tactics used by Greenpeace in its campaign.

It goes without saying that the development of large “marine sanctuaries” are also part of the mix being advocated by Greenpeace.

While there are obviously issues with bycatch associated with purse seining, it seems the poling method advocated by Greenpeace isn’t all that environmentally friendly either. According to info Fisho has researched online, this fishing method uses a lot more fuel than alternatives and also requires vast quantities of baitfish – used as bait on the poles and also as “chum” to stir the tuna into a feeding frenzy.

There are concerns that harvesting such large quantities of bait will cause major deficits in the marine food chain.

Also, you’d think that concentrating fishing effort into smaller areas due to the imposition of oceanic sanctuary zones would do little to alleviate the problem. This surely just means one area doesn’t get fished but other areas get hit even harder? What’s the environmental benefit of that?

The fact that Greenpeace is trying to do something about global overfishing needs to be acknowledged. Here at Fisho we think it’s important to give credit where it’s due. We certainly don’t agree with all that environment groups do, but Greenpeace’s efforts, flawed as they are, are surely better than just accepting the status quo.

That said, the scale and complexity associated with global industrial fishing is hard to grasp. The initial reaction of most people watching the Greenpeace video would be to want to ban this sort of mindless environmental destruction. Doubtless, that’s what Greenpeace wants us to think. Fact is, however, tinned tuna is cheap protein. And our hungry world has an insatiable need for cheap protein – and lots of it.

But you have to wonder how long our oceans can support the industrial carnage being inflicted day in and day out. Surely no rational person believes that this sort of mass extraction can continue indefinitely? Here in Australia we’re lucky in that our governments and fisheries agencies can manage our own fisheries – both recreational and commercial – but the fact is no one has much control over the bad stuff that’s going on in international waters outside our EEZ.

Unfortunately, what goes on outside our borders can – and does – have major impacts on our fisheries. The tuna stocks being hammered by the global fishing fleets in international waters are the same fish that we target. The marlin caught and discarded as bycatch by the purse seiners are the same marlin that cruise the east coast each summer. And all these fish rely on the bait stocks that would be ravaged by the poling vessels Greenpeace supports.

So what can be done? Well, in the short to medium term probably nothing much because it’s such a monumental problem that no one really knows how to deal with it. Given the myriad of issues relating to economies, population growth, business deals, international fishing rights and food production requirements, it’s probably fair to say that there’s no clear or workable solution to the overfishing problem.

In the longer term, it’s likely that the fisheries concerned will collapse. When – and if – that happens, there’ll obviously be a concerted effort to put things right. We humans are pretty good at screwing things up but thankfully we’re also not bad at fixing them again. Perhaps there’ll be developments allowing mass production of genetically modified protein to replace tinned tuna? Or maybe some form of sustainable intensive aquaculture will mean the purse seiners and polers become irrelevant? Who knows what might get invented …

Whatever eventuates, most thinking people would agree that it would probably make more sense not to screw things up in the first place … However, given what has happened to Atlantic cod, southern bluefin tuna, orange roughy, gemfish and so on, it seems likely that “thinking” and “industrial fishing” don’t often overlap …

But hope springs eternal … so if anyone has any clever ideas about how to solve the problem of global overfishing, especially that relating to the western and central Pacific, be sure and let us know …

NOTE: It’s impossible to cover all the issues relating to a complex and multifaceted topic such as this. The above is my personal take on a situation that I don’t pretend to even begin really understanding or comprehending. The interesting thing is that I don’t think anyone else – and that includes scientists, fisheries managers, environmentalists, politicians and fishermen – fully understands it either … This piece was inspired by my watching of the Greenpeace video and also by comments from We Fish’s Daniel Stanilovic about the environmental issues associated with the pole and line fishing methods advocated by green groups.

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