Annals Of Global Warming: The Imminent Arctic Fishery

Arctic Cod: “Hey, what’s that funny net surrounding me? Never seen anything like it before.”

On the one hand, it is encouraging that the five nations that encircle Arctic waters that are increasingly ice free are moving to try and figure out how to manage the Arctic fishery before the trawler fleets move in and strip mine it:

The governments of the five countries with coastline on the Arctic have concluded that enough of the polar ice cap now melts regularly in the summertime that an agreement regulating commercial fishing near the North Pole is warranted.

Talks are scheduled for later this month among diplomats and fisheries officials from NorwayDenmarkCanada, the United States and Russia. Most concern is focused on newly ice-free waters above the Bering Strait, above the exclusive economic zones of Russia and the United States, and now accessible to trawler fleets from hungry Pacific Ocean nations like China and Japan.

An accord would protect the open water until the fish stocks there can be more fully studied.

On the other hand, the intention is not to fully protect the Arctic fishery as the ice cap has been protecting it, but only to try to protect it from catastrophic overfishing:

The fishing accord would regulate commercial harvests in an area farther offshore — in the so-called doughnut hole of the Arctic Ocean. This is a Texas-size area of international water that includes the North Pole and is encircled by the exclusive economic zones of the coastal countries.

That the center of the Arctic Ocean was unregulated was hardly a concern when it was an icebound backwater. That is changing. Last summer, 40 percent of the central Arctic Ocean melted…

…Dmitry M. Glazov, a whale biologist at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution and an authority on the marine ecosystem of the ice floes, said the waters teem with cod, herring, Greenland sharks, whales, walruses, seals and polar bears. It is unclear, though, whether the fish stocks are large enough to support a commercial fishery.

Even if the five countries agree on a fishery management plan, which is a big if, who believes it will be conservative enough, and enforced well enough, to truly conserve and sustain abundant fish stocks? I thought so.

The reality of global warming is that new ecosystems are opening up to human exploitation. The tragedy is that the possibility of preserving and NOT exploiting is somehow never part of the conversation (except on crazy blogs like this one). The Arctic is the biggest, richest ecosystem that is letting down its natural defenses. It would be inspiring if it became a test case in how nations can work together to avoid the plundering and destruction of yet another area of the planet. But fisheries management around the rest of the globe doesn’t offer much cause for optimism.

Annals Of Inane Fisheries Management: Grey Seal Cull

“Hey, don’t blame me. You guys are the ones who wiped them out in the first place.”

Let me see if I have this right: Humans overfish and wipe out the Atlantic cod population in the Gulf Of St. Lawrence. Cod fishing is banned (have you noticed how many fish bans get put in place when there are, um, no fish left?). But the Atlantic cod population is not bouncing back as expected. So now the plan is to wipe out a big chunk of grey seal population (on the assumption that the grey seals must be eating up al the cod and keeping the population down).

That’s classic. We wipe out a population, and when it seems we did such an effective job it stays wiped out, we conclude the solution is to wipe out another population. This would be sort of funny if it weren’t so stupid.

Luckily, a group of scientists (you know, those nerdy folks who study things, and bring fact into the argument) have stepped forward in opposition to Canada’s plan to kill grey seals so the cod population can revive enough for cod to be killed again, too.

Their argument? There’s no solid evidence that killing a lot of grey seals will revive the cod population:

In October, the Canadian Senate approved a controversial plan to kill 70,000 grey seals in the Gulf of St Lawrence under a bounty system next year, ostensibly to revive the cod stocks that the seals were eating.

But a group of marine scientists at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, have said in a recent open letter: “There is no credible scientific evidence to suggest a cull of grey seals in Atlantic Canada would help depleted fish stocks recover.

“Seals are being used as a scapegoat, just like whales were once blamed for fishery declines,” said Hal Whitehead, marine biologist at Dalhousie, told the Guardian. He called the proposed cull an abuse of the science. “I don’t like the idea of slaughtering all these animals for no reason.”

Ironically, the seal population has grown dramatically because humans were forced to stop killing so many seals, too, when the fur market collapsed thanks to fur bans. That raises the question of how cod flourished in the waters before humans were killing either cod or seals. Seems like the cod did fine despite all those unkilled seals.

There’s more, so read the whole thing. It’s like a story in The Onion, only it’s real.

(h/t to Outside)