Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A fishy future

Last week, I attended a discussion on the future of our fisheries (podcast available here).  Hosted by UBC's alumni affairs, it brought together three individuals representing different interests in the fisheries of our oceans.  It was a topic close to my heart, with much of my childhood passions revolving around tides and changing aquarium water. Now, it seems that oceans represent the last bastion of biodiversity on this planet, its treasures sadly disappearing before its discovery.  Yes, I have a pessimistic view supported by the fact that people can't save what they don't know, and most people simply can't identify with non-mammalian ocean creatures that they don't see on their dinner plates.  I was expecting the same attitude from the panelists of the discussion, and was pleased to be somewhat wrong (in that the optimism of experts is a good thing).

Note that this writeup is merely my account of what I found interesting, not a complete writeup of what was said (for that, check out the podcast), and i make no claims about the beliefs of the speakers beyond what they said.  Here are some notes I took, grouped by the speaker who said them.

In order of introductions, we had Ian Angus who represents a seafood company, but is also director of the Pacific Salmon Foundation. Next to him sat Daniel Pauly, MSc, PhD, and Professor in the UBC Fisheries Centre and Zoology Department. On the left was Christina Burridge, Executive Director of the BC Seafood Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to conservation and sustainability whose members comprised of various organizations with a stake in fish.

Ian Angus
-  critical of DFO management of fish stocks, especially salmon stocks, given the 3 year restriction on sockeye salmon fishery followed by a record turnout of returning sockeye last year
- confident in his own company's sustainable harvesting of fish, but skeptical of others.
- priding itself on the traceability of the fish in its stores back to the boat on which it was caught (which goes beyond the well-known "Oceanwise" designation
- Oceanwise program (which provides guidance for public on what are good fish to eat) doesn't define "chain of custody" - that is, being able to trace fish back to their origins
- doesn't stock sole because the method of catching (bottom trawlers) catch too much bycatch (fish that are discarded because they aren't the target species)

Daniel Pauly
- Canada switched from being a net exporter of fish to a net importer of fish about five years ago.  Much of the fish are imported from third world countries who haven't industrialized fisheries to the extent that first world countries have
- used the term "jellyfish sandwich" to describe our diet in a few years when we've exhausted the ocean of fish
- "nonsense" - what he called the idea of bringing fish caught "sustainably" from thousand-foot-depths in regions such as antartica.
- we need to change our target species to those lower on the food chain, such as sardines.  In terms of food safety, toxins tend to gather in the larger species.
- closed containment fish farms - might work, but are a solution to the wrong problem (not sure what he meant by this).
- 20 million people are directly dependent on fishing for income, one billion people dependent on fish as main source of protein.  In perspective, few people in the first world are dependent on fish as protein, yet are taking resources from people who are.

Christina Burridge
- confident that BC fisheries are managed well, and are among the best in the world (even better than east coast)
- bottom trawlers aren't an environmental problem in BC because fishermen are given incentives to avoid bycatch
- defended trawling with the fact that BC has a quota system so that fishermen will catch the target species in the most efficient way possible. Though she seemed to avoid the question how bycatch could be avoided, I managed to find more information from her organization's website.
- groundfish have rebounded four times since the 1990s (evidence of good fisheries management in BC)
- disagrees that fish are being decimated

During questions from the audience, the former minister of fisheries (1984) John Fraser surprised us with his attendance.  He told us about the collapse of the cod fisheries (during his tenure) was preceded by an annual increase in cod numbers (which proponents of the fisheries claimed was evidence of the fish sustaining the fishing pressure), while noticing that individual sizes were getting smaller.  Eventually, the breeding size cod was wiped out.  He referred to an earlier question of closed containment fish farms, which a few companies are investigating in BC at the moment.

Following the talk, we had an opportunity to mingle with the other attendees and discuss the topic at length over sushi hors d'œuvres (though I would note that none of it contained real fish).

I thoroughly enjoyed myself attending this.  While I've consumed loads of information on conservation (news outlets, blogs), hearing it in person from experts in the field made some of these concerns more real.  And seeing a packed theatre of other attendees encouraged me that those concerns are shared by many others.

UBC Alumni Affairs hosts many other talks on all different topics all over BC and even in other parts of Canada.  I'll surely attend others in the future.

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