Friday, January 27, 2012

Left Out to Dry: Fish Stocks Face Decimation by Mort Rosenblaum & Mar Cabra

Jack mackerel stocks in the southern Pacific have declined from 30 million metric tons to less than 3 million in just 20 years. Photo: Eduardo Sorensen / OCEANA

Eric Pineda, a dock agent in Talcahuano, an old port south of Santiago, peered deep into the Achernar's hold at a measly 10 tonnes of jack mackerel; the catch after four days in waters once so rich they filled the 17m fishing boat in a few hours.

Mr Pineda, as with everyone in the port, grew up with the bony, bronze-hued fish they call jurel, which roams in schools in the southern Pacific.

''It's going fast,'' he said as he looked at the 17m boat.

''We've got to fish harder before it's all gone.'' Asked what he would leave his son, he shrugged.

''He'll have to find something else.''

Jack mackerel, rich in oily protein, is manna to a hungry planet, a staple in Africa. Elsewhere, people eat it unaware; much of it is reduced to feed for aquaculture and pigs. It can take more than 5kg of jack mackerel to raise a single kilogram of farmed salmon.

Stocks have dropped from an estimated 30 million tonnes to less than a tenth of that in two decades.

The world's largest trawlers, after depleting other oceans, now head south toward the edge of Antarctica to compete for what is left.

An eight-country investigation of the fishing industry in the southern Pacific by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists shows how the fate of the jack mackerel may foretell the progressive collapse of fish stocks in all oceans.

In turn, the fate of this one fish reflects a bigger picture: decades of unchecked global fishing pushed by geopolitical rivalry, greed, corruption, mismanagement and public indifference.

An eminent University of British Columbia oceanographer, Daniel Pauly, sees jack mackerel in the southern Pacific as an alarming indicator.

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