Unsustainable Deep Sea Fisheries Are a Good Example of What We Know Being Overwhelmed by the Tragedy of the Commons
© 2011 Peter Free
12 September 2011
Fishing too many slow-growing, slow-reproducing fish
The Marine Conservation Institute warned that:
A team of leading marine scientists from around the world is recommending an end to most commercial fishing in the deep sea, the Earth’s largest ecosystem.
Instead, they recommend fishing in more productive waters nearer to consumers.
In a comprehensive analysis published online this week in the journal Marine Policy, marine ecologists, fisheries biologists, economists, mathematicians and international policy experts show that, with rare exceptions, deep-sea fisheries are unsustainable.
The “Sustainability of deep-sea fisheries” study, funded mainly by the Lenfest Ocean Program, comes just before the UN decides whether to continue allowing deep-sea fishing in international waters, which the UN calls “high seas.”
Life is mostly sparse in the oceans’ cold depths, far from the sunlight that fuels photosynthesis. Food is scarce and life processes happen at a slower pace than near the sea surface.
Some deep-sea fishes live more than a century; some deep-sea corals can live more than 4,000 years.
When bottom trawlers rip life from the depths, animals adapted to life in deep-sea time can’t repopulate on human time scales. Powerful fishing technologies are overwhelming them.
© 2011 Media Room, Deep-sea fish in deep trouble: Scientists find nearly all deep-sea fisheries unsustainable, call for stopping unsustainable fisheries and government subsidies that support them, Marine Conservation Institute (09 September 2011) (paragraph split)
Carrying out this recommendation will likely be impossible. Even if regulatory agreement is reached, funding, equipping, and carrying out the necessary enforcement is very unlikely to happen.
The high seas are a big place, and few people know or care what’s under them.
Citation to journal
Elliott A. Norse, Sandra Brooke, William W.L. Cheung, Malcolm R. Clark, Ivar Ekeland, Rainer Froese, Kristina M. Gjerde, Richard L. Haedrich, Selina S. Heppell, Telmo Morato, Lance E. Morgan, Daniel Pauly, Rashid Sumaila, and Reg Watson, Sustainability of deep-sea fisheries, Marine Policy 36 (2): 307-320 (March 2012)
Like climate change — nobody’s going to be motivated to act about fisheries, until it’s too late to matter
I raise the deep sea fisheries issue because it illustrates the same obstacles that humanity faces in attempting to deal with climate change. We don’t think. And our individual selfishness outruns the good of the whole.
Not being hive insects, we do rather poorly in maintaining the health of our nest.
The Tragedy of the Commons — arguably in play today on a scale never seen before
The “tragedy of the commons” truism is so obvious that none of us, historically, has paid it much mind. We take it for granted that lots of people in one place are going to screw that place’s resources up.
And we have a genetically-based propensity to externalize costs. Our mentality makes the planet both cookie jar and latrine. In the past, our less than globally-wide destructions were not extensive enough to get much attention from governing institutions.
However today, (a) our self-directed genetic makeup, (b) combined with our species’ power to do transforming things to the planet (c) seems to have set dynamics in motion that may make humanity’s future somewhat more of an unpleasant survival challenge than it needed to be.
Examples include our unwitting contributions to the greenhouse effect and to irretrievably depopulating arguably important key ecosystem (keystone) species.
A bone for the anti-scientific “Deny-ers” (deniers)
Admittedly, for the anti-scientific Deniers’ sake, it is very difficult to say:
(a) just how crappy the climate
(b) how anti-diversified (simplified) the biological environment
will have to get, before both work in ways that directly harm our species’ own survival prospect.
Are hive-humans in the long-term forecast?
It seems plausible to guess that, if we continue to exploit the planet’s perishables to extinction, Homo sapiens of the future may eventually have to behaviorally whittle themselves down into hive-like bipeds, who are able to subsist on the few resources that are left.
In that one of many possible futures, the rich would become the human version of queen bees, much like lords of the manor during the days of serfdom.
That prospect is neither good nor bad, at least from the scientific perspective.
However, the Hive Human evolutionary twist would certainly take us to a place that has some esthetic shortcomings — as compared to currently accepted ideas regarding the desirability of encouraging people’s individual freedoms.
With numbers of people, crowding, and depleted resources, freedoms necessarily trend downward.
Ironically, if Hive Humanity does come to pass, America’s anti-science herd would be the most unhappy
Deniers of all stripes will be the most upset, if their descendants are evolutionarily stuffed into behavioral hives necessitated by the combination of overpopulation, over-consumption, and anti-planning/regulatory stupidity that Deniers so volubly support today.
Alas, stupidity tends to be visited upon future generations, rather than on its originators. In this, karma, rather than survival of the fittest, seems to be the theme.