COVID-19: Bad For Fishermen, Good For Fish?


“It is so damn peaceful and relaxing out here.”

Commercial fisheries are yet another example of the yin and yang of the pandemic era. The US commercial fishing industry, like so many industries, is being crushed, with demand plummeting:

The novel coronavirus pandemic has destroyed demand for seafood across a complicated U.S. supply chain, from luxury items such as lobster and crab, generally consumed at restaurants, to grocery staples sourced from the world’s fish farms.

Now, with restaurants closed, many of the nation’s fisheries — across geography, species, gear types and management — have reported sales slumps as high as 95 percent.

Boats from Honolulu to Buzzards Bay, Mass., are tied up dockside, with fisheries in the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska affected, throwing thousands of fishermen out of work and devastating coastal communities.

This is brutal for fishing industry workers, and the relief bills coming out of Congress do not do enough to cushion the blows. But it is logical to assume that this forced hiatus for US commercial fishing is a big benefit to all the fish stocks commercial fishermen target.

In the meantime, it is worth asking whether this pandemic might be a good time to restructure and shrink the global fishing industry. All the blather about “sustainable fisheries” aside, humanity is devastating fish stocks throughout the oceans. Only a tiny percentage is not overfished or maxed out (and, remember, that is a self-interested human judgement). If the fishing industry comes back from COVID, much smaller, and puts a lot less pressure on global fish stocks, that would be a good thing.

That is not to advocate throwing fishermen around the planet into poverty and destitution. But it is to say this would be a good time for governments everywhere to help idled fishermen with the financial support and education they need to find new ways to make a living. Like regenerative agriculture, for example.

Climate change had already brought humanity to an inflection point that demands global change. COVID is reinforcing, and bringing urgency, to that inflection. The massive disruptions of this pandemic are costly and painful. They are also an opportunity to revolutionize how we live and how we care for the planet.

“Tiger King Is Not Blackfish”

It’s the tiger you should care about.

This is why I have resolutely avoided the series and the ensuing “Tiger King” craze. I didn’t care if it was Blackfish. But I did care if it put the plight of the animals at the heart of the story. And it doesn’t:

Many of the interview subjects featured in “Tiger King” say the story was presented to them as one that would expose the problem of private big cat ownership in this country, following in the tradition of many conservation-themed documentaries. Some in the film even say Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, the show’s co-directors and co-producers, claimed to be making the big cat version of “Blackfish,” the award-winning 2013 documentary that spurred widespread backlash against SeaWorld.

“Tiger King,” however, “is not the ‘Blackfish’ of the big cat world,” said Manny Oteyza, the producer of “Blackfish.”

Instead, big cats and the issues affecting them are completely lost in the show’s “soap opera-esque drama,” Dr. Nasser said.

Film-makers make lots of artistic and subjective choices. But when truth and compassion get abandoned in the effort to amp up the entertainment, then that is a deal-breaker.

I don’t see any real outcry about roadside zoos keeping exotic animals. I do see lots of attention being paid to Joe Exotic, and whether Trump should pardon him. What more do you need to know about the impact of the series?

You Can Never Go Wrong With Wolves…

“I know, I know. I’m fascinating.” (Collared wolf from the Druid pack, Yellowstone National Park, NPS)

Unless you are an elk, or rancher, I guess. But they are a great example of the importance of top predators to entire ecosystems.

Reintroducing the wolf to Yellowstone is arguably the world’s greatest wildlife experiment. The wolves’ progress has been documented meticulously by a team of hiking, driving and flying biologists and passionate volunteers — so much so that no wolf study comes close to yielding its abundance of information. The research generated has been distilled into a new book, “Yellowstone Wolves: Science and Discovery,” assembled by three of the biologists who studied the wolves’ return.

“It’s the best place on the planet to view wolves,” said Dr. Smith. Elsewhere, wolf biologists must fly and canoe and hike into remote areas and sneak through forests to spy on wolves. In Yellowstone, says Dr. Smith, “I can drive out to watch wolves with a cup of coffee in my hand.”

At the time the first 14 wolves were released in 1995 (followed by another 27 wolves over the next two years), some 20,000 elk populated the park’s northern range, known as the Serengeti of North America for its profusion of wildlife. With few predators, elk had for decades gobbled up anything green that poked above ground. Today, the elk population totals 6,000 to 8,000. Wolves, at the same time, have made a full-scale return to the Northern Rockies. They now number about 1,500 in Montana, Idaho (where another group was released) and Wyoming, with 350 to 400 in and around Yellowstone. Outside Yellowstone, they can be hunted.

Some believe allowing wolves to be hunted makes their presence more acceptable. “A little blood satisfies a lot of anger,” said Edward Bangs, the retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who was in charge of reintroducing the wolves in 1995.

Of course, in my world there would be no combustion engines in Yellowstone, so anyone who wanted to see wolves (and wildlife) would have to walk. And for sure instead of anger (and hunting) there should be gratitude for the insight and changes the wolves have brought to Yellowstone, and a commitment to restoring predator-prey balance in wild landscapes because that is what wilderness needs to thrive.

That requires elevating the interests of wilderness alongside human interest, and in some cases above it, which would transform our relationship with nature and be a huge step toward revitalizing the natural world.

But, back to wolves. And a podcast that will enthrall you even more with their lives and culture.

Requiem For A Natural Wonder…

(Acropora at English Wikipedia)

RIP, Great Barrier Reef:

New aerial data from Professor Hughes and other scientists released on Monday shows example after example of overheating and damage along the reef, a 1,500-mile natural wonder. The survey amounts to an updated X-ray for a dying patient, with the markers of illness being the telltale white of coral that has lost its color, visible from the air and in the water.

The mass bleaching indicates that corals are under intense stress from the waters around them, which have been growing increasingly hotter.

The world’s oceans, which absorb 93 percent of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases that humans send into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, are warming up 40 percent faster on average than scientists estimated six years ago.

Nature is under constant pressure from humanity. But when large-scale systems are failing before our eyes, you have to wonder what the trophic consequences will be.

I’m not sure if the rampant degradation of the natural world–particularly its icons, like the Great Barrier Reef or the Amazon rainforest–will ever trigger a real shift in human culture and practice. I suppose, eventually. Now would be good, though.

And If You Don’t Believe Me…

…you should definitely listen to Jane Goodall, who argues that if we want to reduce the threat of pandemics we also need to change our relationship with wildlife:

We are now feeling the true cost of wildlife trafficking and the destruction of the natural world that brings us into closer contact with wildlife. My own work has shown me how thousands of great apes are stolen from the wild every year. They are hunted for bush meat and for their body parts, and infants are captured alive to be sold overseas illegally as pets, or for zoos, entertainment, and tourist attractions. This market is distressing for any lover of these wonderful creatures, but it also threatens their very existence. Many other species are in danger too, including elephants, rhinos, the big cats, giraffes, reptiles, and more. Pangolins are the most trafficked animals on Earth. As we mourn the affect this trade has on the individuals that suffer it, we must also see that this global demand and tragedy created the circumstances that have likely resulted in the current pandemic. The risk it poses to humans is certainly another reason to stand up against this behavior.

In the current COVID pandemic there are an increasing number of bans on wildlife trade, and “wet” markets. The real question, though, is whether those bans will remain in place. I hope so, but in the past bans have eventually been lifted. Until the next pandemic.


You know who is enjoying the COVID-shutdown?

British Columbia’s resident killer whales, who are exploring areas of Vancouver harbor that are usually too loud and too busy.

As painful and tragic as this pandemic is, it is so helpful to see the many ways in which human presence (or absence of human presence) affects wildlife. It should help us better acknowledge our outsize impact on the planet, and motivate us to do whatever we can to consider the needs and interests of other species as we make choices in our own lives. .


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