A O U
Overfishing
Fact or Fantasy?
Part I
I participate in a discussion forum called Table Talk hosted by Salon (www.Salon1999.com). It's wide ranging and the following exchange took place in a "thread" called "Global Warming - Links to Relevant Data, Please" located on the "Science & Health" section (there are many sections covering the entire range of human interest). This particular thread drifted into pollution.

And make no mistake, any position taken on anything better be defensible else it will be brutally savaged and the poster soundly humiliated. TT is no choir all singing the same song and there are no choir boys here either. That's why I've avoided talking about fishing, I figured I'd be pretty lonely defending commercial fishing and wasn't at all sure I'd be able to handle the abuse I knew would surely follow (TT tends to have a lot more "liberal" and "environmentally" conscious adherents than sensible people.)

(Note - where there are gaps in the numbering is where I've combined posts that were split up because they were too long to fit into TT's message format)


Part 2 - PART 1 - Part 3

lasersohn - 06:15pm Oct 27, 1998 PDT (#292 of 324)
Jim wrote that main sources of water pollution are: "sewage and chemical companies."

Don't forget agriculture! Apparently runoff into estuaries like Chesapeake Bay (sp?) is full of nitrogen and sulfur compounds which cause algal blooms, which then rob the water of oxygen. that has been implicated in the problems with reefs, and also with declining fisheries.

Gosta, I couldn't help but notice the recent remarks on overfishing in the news lately, and was interested in your position on that issue. Are they crying wolf?
Gösta H. Lovgren - 06:01am Oct 28, 1998 PDT (#293 of 324)
lasersohn said: Don't forget agriculture! Apparently runoff into estuaries like Chesapeake Bay (sp?) is full of nitrogen and sulfur compounds which cause algal blooms, which then rob the water of oxygen. that has been implicated in the problems with reefs, and also with declining fisheries.

While Ag is a serious contributor, it's useful to remember that Ag is not the ONLY contributor, and in many/most cases, not even the biggest. In NJ, (known as the "Garden State"), more than 20 years ago for example, fully 2/3's of the pesticides, fertilizer, and other "cides" normally associated with Ag were being used by homeowners or other "cosmetic" users. (Think of the big trucks that come around and spray a new lawn for you, or all that VigorGrow you put on your tomatoes and what happens when it rains that night.)

lasersohn said:Gosta, I couldn't help but notice the recent remarks on overfishing in the news lately, and was interested in your position on that issue. Are they crying wolf?

You've asked before and I've passed expecting some sort of trap, but here goes anyway.

They are and they aren't. While it's pretty clear (but NOT ALWAYS) that landings have been reduced, it's NOT AT ALL CLEAR that's a direct result of (only) overfishing. Overfishing is a loaded term clearly implying something that has never been true. In point of fact no fishery has EVER been fished to extinction by commercial fishermen. What has happened is that *some* stocks have been fished to uneconomic viability. Which is an entirely different case.

Whenever it happened in the past (and it has happened often in the entire commercial fishing history dating back probably hundreds of years) it corrected itself naturally. (Fishing effort would reduce and stocks would recover, normally because of favorable environmental factors far more than reduced fishing effort.)

And yes, there are certain fishing practices (though not nearly as many as you likely imagine) that should be curtailed.

One difference today, but not the only one, is that political solutions are being brought to bear instead of the natural ones, with entirely different consequences.

Another is pollution.

What is happening is that chickens are coming home to roost and few want to acknowledge their part in it. By that I mean there was over harvesting in some cases, yes. But there are two factors today that exacerbate the situation, and prevent the natural corrections that worked in the past.

  1. There is more money today in the US by having a perception of reduced stocks (actually landings) than there is in having healthy fisheries. By that I mean the budget of National Marine Fisheries Service is dependent on imports (via a tariff on all imported seafood that goes directly to them, not the Treasury) so it is in their direct interest to restrict and reduce domestic landings to the extent possible.

    The primary mechanism they use to effect the perception of domestic fisheries in trouble is via the grant system. A large portion of the tariffs they collect (rumored to be upwards of $600M (million), is doled out to universities. In return NMFS get "scholarly studies" "proving" the fisheries in trouble.

    The universities, for their part in the farce, get anywhere from 35% and up from each grant for "administration". Furthermore less than 5% (probably a lot less) of the grants, which are mandated by law to enhance and promote domestic fisheries, have ANY BEARING at all to commercial (or even recreational) fisheries. So therefore lots of pet projects get money that would not ordinarily be funded (to say nothing of "perks" out of the admin share).

    The commercial fisherman has been the straw man used to justify further restriction (increased import revenue). In probably most cases the beneficiaries (NMFS & Universities) believe they are doing the right thing. In effect victims of their own propaganda. It is not in their interest to look further than NMFS handouts.

  2. The pollution factor coupled with estuarian disappearance and destruction have played the greatest role in the devastation of our fisheries. Any recovery that would have normally resulted from reduced fishing effort is greatly inhibited, if not impossible, due to pollution. The case for that is here in PARC (http://www.SwedesDock/parc.sht).

    The commercial fisherman has also been the straw man here used to justify doing nothing. "It's not my pollution nor my house on the bay that has caused fish stocks to fall. It's not the gasoline I buy, nor the paper I buy, nor the paint I use. It's the cursed overfishing. It's their fault, not mine."

    And as long as a person feels that way he doesn't have to spend to put up a decent sewer treatment plant, can have a chemically green lawn, doesn't have to pay a penny more per kw of electricity, doesn't .... All in comfortable conscience. It is not in their interest to look further than NMFS handouts.

And a kicker is: #2 feeds into #1.

There's a whole hellava lot more to this, lasersohn but you asked ...
lasersohn - 04:36pm Oct 28, 1998 PDT (#295 of 324)
Gosta, I'm very glad I asked. I think you make some great points. I agree that overfishing cannot account for what is happening, and surely salmon fisheries are mostly threatened by roadbuilding and other logging-related damage in watersheds. I was curious about this: In point of fact no fishery has EVER been fished to extinction by commercial fishermen. What about the Peruvian anchovy? I remember reading about it, but it was a long time ago.
selleck mintypins - 07:58pm Oct 28, 1998 PDT (#296 of 324)
You imply that low stocks are the invention of a conspiracy between academia and the government, but concede that stocks really are low. (I never read about commercial, sport or Native fishers blaming such a conspiracy for their problems- are they silent, or are such complaints just unreported?)

Doesn't the 20% or so bycatch tossed overboard represent a significant contribution to the problem?

What's the total value of the domestic catch relative to the NMFS budget? The NMFS seems to me to be pretty slow to limit catch- they sure didn't respond aggressively to the Georges Bank problems in a way that suggested they were using every opportunity to shut down domestic production.

Can you give some examples of species whose numbers are historically high but whose catch you think is unreasonably limited as a result of fraudulent academic work? I'm really interested in your view.

I know the NW fishers are finally having a forceful say against bad logging practices, and the PARC idea seems great, but it also seems like you may be doing as much buck-passing as the next party.


Gösta H. Lovgren - 10:04pm Oct 28, 1998 PDT (#297 of 324)
lasersohn said: surely salmon fisheries are mostly threatened by roadbuilding and other logging-related damage in watersheds.

Yes and probably even more so by the massive dam building for the last 50 years as well. I have little experience with the Salmon fishery so can't comment in any detail.

lasersohn said: I was curious about this: "In point of fact no fishery has EVER been fished to extinction by commercial fishermen." What about the Peruvian anchovy?

I have no knowledge of the Peruvian anchovy but suggest that likely what happened is stocks got so low (whether from harvesting or environmental factors (maybe an El Nino type event) or likely a combination) as to make the fishery unviable economically for a period of years. In the intervening period other species and/or other external factors (better employment opportunities or loss of world market or ...) took their place. It may be the stocks never recovered, I just don't know.

In any case I would wager there are Peruvian anchovies extant today but maybe not in commercial quantities. If that's the case then they are NOT EXTINCT, just not commercially viable.

Through the hundreds of years many have tried to catch the last fish but have all gone broke long before it could happen.


Gösta H. Lovgren - 10:05pm Oct 28, 1998 PDT (#298 of 324)
Selleck said a lot. Before I answer you I will make three points:

  1. You asked a lot of questions, far too many for me to answer at once. I have no reticence about answering them all but you are going to have to ask them slower.

  2. You used the term "fisher" in your query. I will tell you without anger or animosity at this point it is every bit an offensive term to me as any racial slur would be to a minority. It is a term coined by ignorant, malicious, politically correct academics. I can speculate as to motive but won't here.

    I don't expect an apology nor am I asking for one. There's no way you could fairly know that. However If you use it again I will ignore you completely in the future.

  3. I readily admit to a deep and bitter animosity toward NMFS and the academic community (as far as fishery research goes) and justifiably so. If you use deliberately provocative rhetoric (such as I sense you are building to in your queries) then again I will ignore you.
I will answer any fairly put questions and respond to any fair comment to anyone subject to the above conditions. I am interested in discussion, not debate. And now I will respond to your first two points.

Sellect said:You imply that low stocks are the invention of a conspiracy between academia and the government, ...

I suggest you read more carefully. I implied nothing but stated unequivocally what I believe (and know) to be the facts as I see them. What you inferred I can't control. Nor can I control what you want to read into them. What I said was that low stocks are in the interest of academia and the govt (specifically NMFS and the Dept of Commerce) because low stocks are far more profitable for them then healthy fisheries. And I stated why that is so. If there was something you didn't understand I'm happy to expand on any of those points.

Sellect said:but concede that stocks really are low.

I didn't "concede" but readily admitted there are fisheries with low stocks and that commercial fishing probably played some role in that. My complaint is that Commercial Fishermen are taking the entire brunt of those (serious) allegations when in fact there are a lot more factors to consider that most people are not aware of, sometimes because they just don't know, sometimes because they are being deliberately misled and sometimes because they just don't want to know.

As for your other points I'll address them if you like but not more than one or two at a time.(And please when stating what I have said, quote my actual statement rather than your interpretation.) This is a serious issue for me and I have considerable knowledge and experience in (some) fisheries, (many) fishery management techniques and other phases of the fishing industry. I will not take a buckshot approach in responding.


John Horowitz - 01:09pm Oct 29, 1998 PDT (#299 of 324)
Gosta, since you've opened this topic, I have some questions as well. Particularly concerning the cod fishing in the North Atlantic.

It's my understanding that the use of the bottom -dragging large-mouthed nets have contributed considerably to these problems. Particularly in decimating the populations of very young fish and the ancillary 'trash-fish' stocks. Are you familiar with this type of fishing? If so, can you enlighten us, please?

Thanks.


#300 Deleted - Not relevant here.

Gösta H. Lovgren - 05:18pm Oct 29, 1998 PDT (#301 of 324)
John said: I have some questions as well. Particularly concerning the cod fishing in the North Atlantic.

It's my understanding that the use of the bottom -dragging large-mouthed nets have contributed considerably to these problems. Particularly in decimating the populations of very young fish and the ancillary 'trash-fish' stocks. Are you familiar with this type of fishing? If so, can you enlighten us, please?

Yes I am very familiar (and experienced) with trawls though not in the cod grounds in the North Atlantic. What you are referring to is "trawling" or "dragging". It's a method of fishing that has been in use most of this century. To expect that all of a sudden it is the culprit ignores reality.

First of all bottom trawling is subject to severe limitations not readily apparent to laymen. Primarily it is limited to clear bottom where there are no "snags" (wrecks, large rocks, soft silty bottom, any number of obstructions or conditions that would tear up or otherwise foul the gear). Fish generally don't congregate on clear bottom so it often becomes a tradeoff for fishermen to drag as close to ragged bottom where fish do gather as they can without losing gear.

The point I'm making is that trawling is nowhere near as efficient as eco* movies would have you believe. Another is that fish have many more "safe havens" in the rough bottom than there is clear bottom for the trawls, therefore it's impossible in this case to utterly decimate (to the point of no recovery) the school.

(*Note for purposes of civility I will use the abbreviation ecos and refrain from using the proper term "Eco-Nazis" as defined on my AOU site. (http://www.SwedesDock#econazis)


{Note - Lifted from AOU at Swede's Dock}

Pompous pontificating "Save-The-Worlders" and other Eco-Nazis.

All those extremist and alarmist Green Peacers, et al who are composed, in some (or at least the loudest) part by the above, and whose biggest trip is making the 6 o'clock news. Or raising money for the cause (which only incidentally has some pretty hefty 6-figure salaries), or ....

Note-


Because of the juveniles and trash fish you allude to fishermen use as large a mesh size in their nets as is practical to allow the escape of both. If they didn't the trawl would often "choke" or collapse and even cease to fish altogether. Furthermore fishermen don't want to capture juveniles even less than ecos want them to and for the very same reasons (at least the reasons the ecos will admit to publicly).

As far as bycatch being detrimental, I can only say that while bycatch can occasionally (even often) appear to be excessive, it is something fishermen truly work to avoid. (It's a lot of extra work, can be very hard on (even destroy) the gear, can degrade the quality the valuable fish, can....). Furthermore it's been a fact of fishing ever since the beginning and why is it only now that is "detrimental"? If it were as bad as the ecos would have you believe (and I'm not saying it's good, only that it's been a fact for a long time), fishing would have collapsed 50 or 100 years ago.

An aside - I've seen times (and it wasn't unusual) when I was shrimping (nearly 40 years ago) that bycatch reached 99+% (1,000's of lbs per night). And this in the most intensive fishing effort and grounds in the US if not the world. At that time there were 16,000 large boats. Today there's over 25,000 boats (I'm told). If ever a bycatch fishery were going to get wiped out it would have long, long, long ago been in the Gulf of Mexico,)

I can speculate on the collapse of the cod fish this way:

  1. Heavy fishing pressure - which increased in recent years due to reduced stocks (not necessarily cod alone) closer to home for American, Canadian and European fleets causing them to go further offshore when they normally stayed closer to home. Those close to home stocks declined for various reason (most likely pollution resulting in very low recruitment levels). But that increased pressure alone could not be the sole reason, and likely not the major reason for the severity of the cod decline, only for reduced landings.

  2. Pollution - (see PARC for details). There always has been historically heavy fishing pressure on codfish. There have been down years (decades) and up years (decades) but never has the decline been as bad as it is reputed to be in recent years (I don't believe so-called fishery scientists out of hand for obvious reasons but fishermen I have spoken too say the cod is in the worst shape they have ever seen and I do believe (generally) fishermen.)

  3. Seals - for probably 150 years there have been seal pup harvests ranging from 50,000 - 250,000 a year for in the last decades. (Even as high as 2,000,000 some years in the last century). A harvest that was closely monitored by Canadian management people again for decades. It kept a seal population both healthy and in check.

    Beginning in the late 70's or 80's IIRC (If I Recall Correctly) the ecos got involved and began advertising the "inhumane slaughter for no good purpose", presumably only by evil people who got their kicks out of slaughtering innocent babies. Nevermind the indigenous populations who depended on a healthy seal population. Never mind the Canadian conservation people who had been monitoring for decades and keeping the seal population in equilibrium. The ecos launched a very effective and eventually successful campaign to halt the harvest of seal pups. (That this is was a tremendous boon to eco coffers was, of course, only incidental. Yeah Right!!!)

    How does this relate to cod fish? Well, an adult seal can eat up to 40 lbs of fish, if not more, in a day. Seal are cold water animals. Cod are cold water fish. You do the math for several years of sudden and uncontrolled seal reproduction on juvenile cod stocks.

I believe that #2 has reduced recruitment far below what ever would have been considered "normal" levels, even for a stock reduced by a heavy harvest #1. I believe that #3 came along and cleaned up on whatever recruitment there was of juvenile fish.

So John there's my answer on the Great Cod Collapse. There's really a lot more than I've said here (the absolutely astounding fecundity of ocean species for example) but that's enough for now.


selleck mintypins - 07:35pm Oct 29, 1998 PDT (#303 of 324)
Thanks, Gosta. (You're right, I didn't know that that usage is offensive.)
Gösta H. Lovgren - 06:42am Oct 30, 1998 PDT (#304 of 324)
Now Selleck, trusting that my previous replies haven't covered everything I will answer your other points:

Selleck said: You imply that low stocks are the invention of a conspiracy between academia and the government, but concede that stocks really are low. (I never read about commercial, sport or Native fishers fishermen blaming such a conspiracy for their problems- are they silent, or are such complaints just unreported?)

I will suggest to you several things regarding why other people in the industry may not regard the "conspiracy" from the same perspective as I do (but MANY do however, perhaps not with the same vehemence or conviction):

  1. I was involved in the very early days of the implementation of the "200 mile law" and was a "player" in the formulation of the very first management plan. I saw first hand the utter stupidity, arrogance, really complete ignorance and indifference of the so called regulators.

    I saw the cozy relationship build ("You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours") between the $cientists, big bucks industry and NMFS.

    I saw first hand the mechanisms put in place how NMFS manipulates and manages the so called "Management Councils" (there are 7 covering the whole country and all ocean fisheries).

    I saw first hand the evil (yes evil. How else can you describe regulations whose obvious inevitable consequence would be the drowning of men put in place with clear knowledge before hand?) and unambigous deliberate large interest (read money) bias.

  2. The reason I was a player and able to see through the deliberately opaque bullshit (including the fraudulent fallacious science) that passes for management philosophy and sounds oh so very good and reasonable is that I was president of a relatively well funded Commercial Fishermen group (The National Sea Clammers' Assn). We had hired an expert fisheries management consultant (who was once a Commercial Fishermen himself and held two doctorates in fishery related fields) and he gave me an intensive, though informal, fishery management course over the next couple years. (At base it's really not all that difficult. It's the deliberate camouflage that makes it appear that way.)

  3. While I don't believe the tying of import fees to NMFS was implemented with any malice, it became a seriously, even fatal (to fishermen's way of life and in some cases actually), detrimental unintended consequence. I don't believe anyone really knew at the time how much money was going to be raised by the fees, nor how it was going to affect fisheries management.

    What I believe happened was that almost overnight a backwater, relatively unknown (and deservedly so, would that it stayed that way) government agency became inundated with money. Its budget unexpectedly balloned probably by a factor of 10 or more. What to do? "Well our friends at Cluck University could use a grant to study the eye of newt, and they've been pretty helpful with our surf clam program so why don't we ...."

I've really only scratched the surface here but I trust it answers your question - "I never read about commercial.... , sport or Native fishers fishermen blaming such a conspiracy for their problems - are they silent,"

And Selleck said: or are such complaints just unreported?"

Yes much of what Commercial Fishermen think and complain about at public meetings goes unreported in the mainstream media. They are regarded as greedy malcontents. "How can you believe them, didn't you see that eco special on tv last night or read that latest study from Cluck U?"

Selleck said: Doesn't the 20% or so bycatch tossed overboard represent a significant contribution to the problem?

I believe I already answered that with my reply to John. If you have any questions I'll be glad to try.

Selleck said: What's the total value of the domestic catch relative to the NMFS budget?

I honestly don't know but am certain the gap is narrowing every year (presuming landings still have more value than their budget) as more and more fishermen are being forced out by heavy handed regulation and import fees increase. If you were to discount domestic shrimp landings and surf clams I would bet they are very close.

As a point of interest, in more than 20 years of "management" of domestic fisheries imports have risen from about 20% of all seafood to over 75% today. And as a point of interest on that subject (and remember that NMFS is in the Dept of Commerce), the US uses seafood as a bargaining chip when discussing trade with other countries. Exporting seafood to the US is one way (and critically important for some smaller countries) to earn dollars which can then be used to buy Fords, IBMs, etc.

Selleck said: Can you give some examples of species whose numbers are historically high but whose catch you think is unreasonably limited as a result of fraudulent academic work?

Surf Clams, lobsters and scallops, possibly fluke, come to mind right off hand. Maybe not "historically high" but high enough.

Selleck said: but it also seems like you may be doing as much buck-passing as the next party.

I trust your view is somewhat softened regarding how much "buck passing" I'm doing. If you have any other questions or viewpoints you would like to discuss I'm only too happy to respond (subject, of course, to the conditions I laid out {grin}) .


jim coil - 07:18am Oct 30, 1998 PDT (#307 of 324)
I don't go around telling people I believe we live on a living - breathing planet - the Son of a Sun, totally dependent on the Sun. Much like the American Indians theosophy - but I do, no matter what Scientist explain.

And just like a giant spider's web - you can poke holes in it and it still holds up - but at some point a major link will break and the whole thing is liable to collapse. No one knows enough about this web to know when it liable to collapse - we don't know how many holes it is safe to poke - but I know as Plankton goes so goes man - we are not as smart as the dumb old dinosauer.


Judith Greer - 07:29am Oct 30, 1998 PDT (#308 of 324)
Gösta said: As a point of interest, in more than 20 years of "management" of domestic fisheries imports have risen from about 20% of all seafood to over 75% today.

We were also eating very, very much less seafood as a whole 20 years ago. Tastes and, consequently, demand for seafood, have changed enormously. Just as a point of information.


Gösta H. Lovgren - 08:18am Oct 30, 1998 PDT (#309 of 327)
Jim said: ... but I know as Plankton goes so goes man...

My point in PARC (http://www.SwedesDock/parc.sht) almost exactly.


John Horowitz - 12:21pm Oct 30, 1998 PDT (#310 of 327)
Thanks for a very reasonable and enlightening explanation, Gosta. I make my living working nearly exclusively with various Federal agencies.

I can certainly second your view on NMFS; they are in the standard mold for Federal agencies.


jim coil - 12:28pm Oct 30, 1998 PDT (#311 of 327)
Now I know what's wrong with our Government. back on subject.
lasersohn - 01:12pm Oct 30, 1998 PDT (#312 of 327)
Yes, our scientists and politicians and bureaucrats suck. So do the corporate bureaucrats. There are liars on both sides of the environmental controversies. So, what is your point?
Dave C - 05:16pm Oct 30, 1998 PDT (#313 of 327)
The point is, I suppose, that because some regulation has failed [and I'm willing to consider Gosta's argument that the regulators in this instance have done a poor job--though I'm not willing to take Gosta's word for it] all regulation is evil.

Better to have no regulation at all.

Such is the awesome respect that some people have for the what they perceive as the largeness of our planet.

It's a wide wide world out there and it doesn't matter what we throw into it or take out of it, it will basically take care of itself, as it always has, in all the thousands and millions of years that the human population was under 1 billion souls.

What's the population now? Over 5 billion? You don't say? But that shouldn't make any difference.

Business as usual, that's the important thing here.

Let's, by all means, respect each other's ability to make more money. That's the only environmental consideration that need apply.

BTW, here are a couple of reference-links to accompany Gosta's very well-written arguments:

NOAA Fisheries Headquarters
Endangered Species Policy Documents

(Note - I did not include the link addresses here because I will do NOTHING to contribute to the propaganda of EcoNazis or NMFS. GHL)


Gösta H. Lovgren - 09:02am Oct 31, 1998 PDT (#314 of 327)
Dave said:The point is, I suppose, that because some regulation has failed [and I'm willing to consider Gosta's argument that the regulators in this instance have done a poor job--though I'm not willing to take Gosta's word for it] all regulation is evil.

Better to have no regulation at all.

While I suppose that, stretching, one could infer that I am opposed to ALL regulation in Commercial Fishing but that would be untrue, and I stated as much. There are some FEW that I believe would be overall beneficial to the stocks, the fishermen and the country.

That said, however, in my experience (which I believe I have fairly stated, even understated) it is without question that given the regulations as they now exist, have existed and are proposed, most, if not all Commercial Fishing (Commercial Fishermen in particular), much of the industry and the country would have been better off if there had been no regulations at all. In the case of the stocks, they may not all have been better off but certainly no worse off.

Implicit in Dave's position is that external regulation is inherently good and that the government de facto knows best for everybody. This is a knee jerk reaction that many self professed environmentalists have (as if they are the only ones who care). He might have a case here if there were any objective science to back him up but simply isn't any in this country. It's all, without exception (in my experience) $cience bought and paid for by vested interests (in most cases NMFS, in some cases ecos, others by industry). Experiments performed, "studies" done, economic and ecological models built, all with predetermined results (otherwise known as the $cientific approach guaranteed to keep the grant flow rolling in). There's even stories of stuff done that contradicted the "party line" and was suppressed.

Dave said: Such is the awesome respect that some people have for the what they perceive as the largeness of our planet.

I am speaking from an industry that has hundreds of years of experience behind it. It has always been self regulating in that long, long, long before any long term or permanent damage (at least in terms of species viability) can be done to a stock from commercial fishing alone, the cost of catching a declining resource (from over harvest) has far exceeded any possible return.

One very real and dominating drawback is that we all live in a completely different environment (land based) and the oceans are a completely different, even alien, world. We naturally think in terms of our own experiences and exposures. Almost all of the animals in our world reproduce in ones and twos. If a population gets too low there's a very real possibility it may never be able to recover. Although even that may not be entirely true. The American Buffalo and California condor come to mind. (Though they almost assuredly could not have recovered without human intervention).

And yes I do have an "awesome respect" for the ocean, certainly more than you'd be willing to credit me with, your sarcasm notwithstanding.

In the ocean, potential reproductive fecundity of animals is in the 10's or 100's of 1,000's, even millions per animal. A prime example of that was the pollution kill of '76 off of NJ (http://www.SwedesDock/pollkill.sht) Surf clams (as well as nearly everything else, including natural clam predators) had a kill rate of as high as 99.9% throughout nearly all of a 2500 square mile area. A far higher (at least a magnitude higher) mortality than even the most intense harvesting could ever have accomplished. Within 10 years (and maybe as little 5) there were more clams than ever "reseeded" in the area (an area that was the target of a huge bonanza production boom in the late 50's & 60's).

At the risk of boring you even further I will give two more examples to make my point, again from my own experience (which is not all that unique among Commercial Fishermen).

  1. The first is mackeral. No species (at least as far as I know) has been more intensively harvested than mackeral (well some have, like shrimp for example). When the Eastern Block fleets (collectively known as the Russians) were active off the East Coast in the 60's and early 70's, they were chasing mackeral (primarily). (I know because when I clammed among the fleet I would catch (lots of) machine cut mackeral heads in my dredge). They would come in 100 boat (actually small ships) fleets with a single "captain" and very sophisticated electronics. When they towed, they looked like those pictures of large overlapping combines mowing wheat in the plains of Kansas. Little escaped them. And they fished far beyond any economic viability. (Which is another, even fascinating, issue but not relevant here. It cost them overall 45 cents to catch protein they could have purchased on the world market for 25 cents.)

    At any rate if a stock was ever going to be "annihilated", "decimated', "destroyed" (pick any doomsday adjective favored by American fishery $cientists, regulators or ecos you'd like) from commercial harvesting it would have been mackeral. (Which hasn't been a viable candidate for extensive or directed commercial American harvest since the 50's which is another, even fascinating issue (for me anyway) but not relevant here.)

    In recent years (maybe as many as the last 15) mackeral have been periodically present off NJ in vast schools again, like they have been in the long ago past ('40's, 60's). Which fact belies the doomsday scenarios so favored by the propaganda laden.

  2. The second is Scallops. In the late 30's (my father's time, not mine {grin}) scallops were at a high premium. There was a dedicated fishery and they were extremely scarce, no matter where fishermen looked. Then in 1940, essentially overnight, vast quantities of scallops appeared all over. A "set" that lasted throughout the 40's. I recall they got so cheap after the war that my father refused to go out on scallopers (it's tough work, even by Commercial Fishermen standards).

    Things slowed down pretty good in the 50's to the point there were few, if any, scallopers left in my area. Then in the mid 60's we had another big "set". They were so plentiful even clammers were catching hundred's of lbs a day. (Note that surf clams dredges are specifically designed to "reject" anything shaped like a scallop (another fascinating subject but I don't think this "audience" would really be interested.). They got so cheap (as low as 25 cents a lb) we were even throwing them back or giving them away. That set lasted into the 70's.

    Again things slowed down pretty good in the 80's & 90's to the point there were few, if any, scallopers left in my area. Now I understand there is another "set". How big or widespread it is is difficult to measure because the nature (and likely intent) of the regulations of the now heavily regulated fishery are to inhibit "hunting" and other techniques that were used historically to locate scallops.

My point in all is that (most) fisheries are just naturally cyclical in nature. They exist in an infinitely more complicated and complex environment than we do. They are subject to impossibly complex conditions that we are only dimly aware of, Certainly many fisheries are in decline but to blame Commercial Fishermen totally (or even majorly) for that decline is not only grossly hypocritical, it's deceptively dangerous in that if I'm right, and I am, that pollution is the major culprit then as Jim said earlier "as goes plankton so goes the world."

Dave said: It's a wide wide world out there and it doesn't matter what we throw into it or take out of it, it will basically take care of itself, as it always has, in all the thousands and millions of years that the human population was under 1 billion souls.

What's the population now? Over 5 billion? You don't say? But that shouldn't make any difference.

Business as usual, that's the important thing here.

Let's, by all means, respect each other's ability to make more money. That's the only environmental consideration that need apply.

That exactly the ignorant, even dangerous, knee jerk eco talk I'm railing against. He automatically assumes all Commercial Fishermen are greedy resource rapists (he didn't use that term but he's getting close. It's a favorite of the ecos.) and don't care about anything but money, when that just simply isn't the case. (He heavyhandedly lumps us in with the polluters and other "enemies" of the world which virtually everyone reading this is a contributor to. By making us the enemy he doesn't have to address his own (or our) "contributions".) Unless we bow down and acknowledge his (their) superior knowledge and experience when it comes to the "environment" and what's right for the world. And allow ourselves to be "led" by them.

If I sound angry, you bet I am. NMFS (in particular, but not only) in pushing its own agenda has made all Commercial Fishermen out to be environmental and societal criminals of the worst order. I am sick of, and sickened by, it. With their lies, distortions, incomplete truths, and with their propaganda that has convinced even good people (and yes Dave, I'd probably put you in that category. You're just angry and ignorant.) we are the bad guys in this ocean scenario. They have driven many good and decent people out of business, and in some cases, bankruptcy. They have caused others to drown. I feel they have defecated on me, my family, my history... They have made, for no good or decent reason, many of us ashamed and defensive of what we did and do. And that, for me, is the greatest crime of all. A man has little without his own honor.

As for the pollution factor, before that turkey comes home to finally roost (likely decades), I'll will have surely "gone west". But Dave is likely to still be here. I wonder if then he'll say "I wish I listened better to ...." And that's the danger of being seduced by the eco polemics and mantras, it allows us to gloss over, even ignore, the real problems (ultimately us all) until just maybe it will be too late.

{Sorry if I bore with these long, even detailed, replies. As I said at the outset, this is a serious issue with me and I want to make sure, to the extent I am able, you ALL understand it. It's not one that's readily amenable to a 20 second tv spot or any of those witty one liners we're all so fond of. It's not that you have to agree with me (because I'm not looking for validation though it's always nice) only that you understand all that's at stake here and all is not as it appears to be according to the propaganda so blithely and loosely distributed by NMFS and the ecos. It's not surprising if you believe it. It's really very well done. Even many Commercial Fishermen have been suckered into believing it.}


Dave C - 02:45pm Oct 31, 1998 PDT (#317 of 327)
As a matter of fact, Gosta, I applaud this recent series of posts by you and have read every word with interest. I'm sorry if my opinion on the subject wasn't instantly changed and that I'm not expressing religious devotion to your cause...but my mind doesn't work that way. I read what you write and I'm thinking about it, and reading other sources with your very respectable point of view in mind. That doesn't mean I agree with you, but you have my attention. If that's not good enough for you, too bad.

As for regulation in general, yes, I do believe it's inherently necessary, even if every instance of it has so far failed [which I don't believe to be the case]. I believe you when you say that the industry has self-regulated for hundreds of years. But have you ever looked at population charts? Up to a very few decades ago, the ratio of people to fish made regulation unnecessary. That is changing far more rapidly than you are willing to admit.

And you haven't even addressed the issue of international controls. Don't you see some countries as practicing what can only be described as predatory and destructive practices out in the open seas? How can we deal with those countries other than with a system of international agreements? Don't those agreements require domestic regulations? What would you rather have, fish wars? Real wars?


Posts 318 & 319 have been deleted. They contain no reference to fishing

Gösta H. Lovgren - 08:04pm Nov 1, 1998 PDT (#320 of 324)
Dave said: As a matter of fact, Gosta, I applaud this recent series of posts by you and have read every word with interest. I'm sorry if my opinion on the subject wasn't instantly changed and that I'm not expressing religious devotion to your cause...but my mind doesn't work that way. I read what you write and I'm thinking about it, and reading other sources with your very respectable point of view in mind. That doesn't mean I agree with you, but you have my attention. If that's not good enough for you, too bad.

I am not trying to "convert" anyone. My only point to make is There's a whole lot more to the 'Overfishing' scenario than meets the eye and is not being told. What I am trying to do (here and on my site - http://www.SwedesDock.com) is bring some of that to light.

Dave said: As for regulation in general, yes, I do believe it's inherently necessary, even if every instance of it has so far failed [which I don't believe to be the case].

Read again what you said. Think about it a little. Why is regulation "inherently necessary"? An old adage among mechanical people is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." A GREAT DEAL in this whole fishing mess is stuff that wasn't broke but is "getting fixed" which IS breaking it. And a whole lot really far more important of stuff that is broke (pollution) is getting ignored because of it.

Dave said: I believe you when you say that the industry has self-regulated for hundreds of years. But have you ever looked at population charts? Up to a very few decades ago, the ratio of people to fish made regulation unnecessary. That is changing far more rapidly than you are willing to admit.

You are making the same point, I suppose, that Judith was referring to when she said: We were also eating very, very much less seafood as a whole 20 years ago. Tastes and, consequently, demand for seafood, have changed enormously.

(I had intended to get to her post but yours is directly to the point (and appreciated for being so) so I'll answer it instead.)

It's true that demand for seafood is up and consequently brings greater pressure on the stocks. What isn't necessarily true (but is implied) is that greater pressure damages the stocks. (again I'm talking extinction, not necessarily economic viability (which I'll get to a little later).

A problem is that when talking in economic terms there is a clear belief (because of our "land-based experience") that is if we don't catch a lot of fish today, they will be there to catch tomorrow (or next year), much like corn in the field or fish in a lake. That often/usually is not the case. Unlike the corn, "fish have tails" (what fishermen say when they've had a good catch from huge schools one day only to return the next and not catch any. A common and normal occurrence) and unlike the lake they have a vast ocean to roam. And unlike either the lake or the corn, they are vulnerable to uncontrollable predation well beyond just man.

Just as ocean species have incredible fecundity for reproduction, (Which is the only way they can survive as a species given the fragility of their environment and the massive assaults on their populations over 10's of 1,000's of years and more. Think 1,000 year storms, Ice Ages, etc.), their predators (other than mammals) have that same capability and can populate to the point where they dramatically reduce stock of the prey species (in our case the same species we are interested in exploiting).

I think a little on the biology is appropriate here (and I'm sure you'll excuse me if I don't use the "correct" terminology. I'm just an old blue collar high school non-graduate). In order for there to be reproduction (especially on a large scale) in the fragile, even hostile, environment like the ocean, things have to be "just right" (more than just mom not having a "headache" or being at the right time of month). Temperature, salinity, oxygen saturation content, currents, wind, chemical composition of the water (which is the point where massive ocean pollution, comes in), low to no predation, ample food availability and far more factors all have to come into favorable alignment at one time. Then we have the massive "sets" like I spoke of earlier. That's not to say there isn't reproduction in between "sets" but it is *relatively* low.

(It's not at all as simple as planting a crop, applying a pesticide to repel predators and irrigating in case of a drought or stocking a lake with bass; which is in the back of all our "land-based" minds when we think or hear of fishery management.)

Whenever we have heavy harvests ("overfishing" if you will) what happens is that we reduce the available stock below economic viability (but in no case can we afford to catch enough commercially to extinct the species). What also happens is that the predators of that species are also correspondingly reduced because of lack of "food". Then when next there is a favorable confluence of events (temp, food, chemical water composition, etc.) the fecundity of the species spawns a massive "set" that survives. (Unless of course pollution disturbs up the chemical mix, which is what I know is happening).

One other factor to keep in mind is that, within very broad ranges, over time, not necessarily year to year, species reproduce only to the extent necessary for the survival of the species. In other words when a population is in "equilibrium" (for lack of a better term), it only reproduces enough to ensure survival (replaces those that have died the previous cycle). There are any number of cases where that's been demonstrated in the animal kingdom and the same has been shown to be true in the ocean as well (largely among "static" populations that can be counted like some shellfish). The difference is that with land based animals the fecundity is not always enough to ensure species survival in the wild, especially given habitat reduction, despoilation, etc. whereas in the ocean the pollution is altering the chemical compositions necessary for reproduction (at least that's what I believe).

Next let's look at "super trawlers", those huge factory ships we've all seen pictures of and the ecos and NMFS are so fond of using to frighten us to their way of thinking. First of all they can only survive on big production, lots of fish. The only time that kind of production is available is after big "sets" (described above). For illustrative purposes, assume a 20 year cycle for the favorable confluence of events (discussed above). If there is only enough in the stock to support 5 years of harvesting at the super trawler level then there will be 15 years of non profitable operation and the super trawlers will go broke. That's been the history and self regulating I was talking about earlier. It's just not possible to sustain super trawler landings throughout the 20 year cycle no matter how you parcel out production. It's just a physical impossibility.

What is happening today with the advent of the 200 mile law is that now political "remedies" are now trying to replace the historical and "natural" regulation. And with even less success, I might say, as far as stock replenishment is concerned. (The politics are a whole discussion in itself.)

I've used the term "economic viability" often here and I'll address that now. What happens when a large amount of fish is landed and brought to market is that the price plummets. It's all going to get used, just in different markets (another whole discussion in itself). For example people who couldn't afford to eat/use fish that cost $1 a lb can afford to eat it at $0.10 a lb. (There's more to it and I can expand on it if you like.)

Now let's assume that instead of landing all that stock at once (essentially) we could somehow spread it out over the life of the "big set cycle" and that no other predator or environmental disaster gets to the stock in the meantime. All that "preservation" would really mean is higher prices to the industry (presumably fishermen, but more likely the bulk would go to the "middlemen" - processors, etc.) over a longer period of time. And those folks who previously got the benefit of $0.10 lb fish would end up having to pay $1.50 lb for the same fish.

Dave said: And you haven't even addressed the issue of international controls. Don't you see some countries as practicing what can only be described as predatory and destructive practices out in the open seas?

I believe I addressed much of that as far as predatory practices (large catches) go. I have no idea what other "destructive practices" you're referring to.. Certainly I don't condone much of what has been by other countries, even less by this one for that matter. There are certain practices that should be curtailed or even banned. I will readily admit to that.

Dave said: How can we deal with those countries other than with a system of international agreements? Don't those agreements require domestic regulations?

It seems to me pretty damn poor policy to punish domestic fishermen (and consumers, all American citizens) for what happens on the high seas by other countries, which they have no control over and in no way affect. We have (now) jurisdiction to 200 miles. It seems to me what happens inside those 200 miles is no one's business but our own, just as we (should) have no right to tell Venezuela how to manage their resources inside their own 200 miles. Furthermore what you're talking about is political in nature and in practice has little to do with stock conservation, vociferous protestations notwithstanding.

Dave said:What would you rather have, fish wars? Real wars?

No I would rather have responsible regulation (where appropriate) by knowledgeable people practiced outside of the political and granted university arenas. I would like to see management (where appropriate) based on facts and reasonability instead of emotional hyperbole.


Dave C - 02:42am Nov 2, 1998 PDT (#323 of 324)
Good posts, Gosta. Very good. And an excellent website (AOU http://www.SwedesDock). I think you are at one end of a spectrum, probably at an end I'll never reach myself, but as I said before, I completely respect your point of view. And certainly it's true that you are more knowledgeable about this subject than me. What I would truly be interested in reading, however, despite the names you call all those other people, is an equally impassioned view from the other side. Then, in the words of Paul Harvey, we would hear "the rest of the story".
Gösta H. Lovgren - 05:42am Nov 2, 1998 PDT (#324 of 324)
Dave said:... I think you are at one end of a spectrum, probably at an end I'll never reach myself, but as I said before, I completely respect your point of view. And certainly it's true that you are more knowledgeable about this subject than me. What I would truly be interested in reading, however, despite the names you call all those other people, is an equally impassioned view from the other side. Then, in the words of Paul Harvey, we would hear "the rest of the story".

What I would truly be interested in reading, however, despite the names you call all those other people, is an equally impassioned view from the other side.

You don't need that Dave. You already have it. You've been reading "their" side for 25 years. It's in the Big Group Environmental movement releases, the 20 second tv news "stories", the front page newspaper articles taken word for word from NMF$, Commer$e, $cience, Environmental (boy I wish there was an "$" in that word too) handouts, the Nature & Cousteau tv specials, ....

Why hasn't "my" side been in the news? Well it's taken a lifetime of (widely disparate, even fortuitous) experience in the fishing business for me to put it together. And it's taken a massive stroke and a wonderful wife to give me the time to think it all out and put it together (and I'm probably not done yet). And it's taken a forum like TT to force me to articulate it in reasonable fashion. And as you can see it's not easily amenable to facile explanations or catchy slogans. And it's not in the interest of very many to let you know of the Commercial Fisherman's side (even if they know it in their hearts, - and frankly I've had many admit it privately - they delude themselves with "there's a bigger picture here". (They have to - yet another whole thread))

What you have done is force me to organize and lay out the facts in an irrefutable (at least I believe they are) fashion and order. Were we to meet in person, you would find me (on fishery issues) a very very angry man who would quickly lose his temper and be unable to articulate. So great is the injustice I feel has been done to us and mine. And so well done has the case been presented by the "enemy" (as I firmly believe them to be). You know how something can be bothering you and you just don't know what it is? Well that's how this whole "overfishing" business has been for me and pretty near every commercial fisherman I know for years. After this cathartic experience of being forced to write it out, I am even more confident in my position.

Were my case (or points in it) weak or just plain wrong, I'm certain you (and others) would, without hesitation, jump right in and expose them in a New York minute. (as I have done to others in other areas of Table Talk). That's why I agreed to get involved here. If my position were truly indefensible this is the place to find out. As I noted earlier, the enemy's propaganda is so good it even has (had) Commercial Fishermen doubting themselves and that included me.


Dave C - 09:01am Nov 2, 1998 PDT (#325 of 331)
Well I'm no expert and maybe later an expert will jump in with a counter-argument that I can't think of on my own but I have to admit, your argument about the huge catches being economically self-limiting [with no possibility of driving the target fish to extinction] is a very compelling one. Again: good job.
Gösta H. Lovgren - 12:26pm Nov 2, 1998 PDT (#326 of 327)
Dave said:I think you are at one end of a spectrum, ...

I don't think that's a fair characterization. I'm at a point on the spectrum. Saying that I'm at the end of it implies a polarization that really does not exist for me. "What's right is right" and all that. I respect differing opinions and viewpoints. I don't respect the lies and innuendo that have deliberately misled you (and many others) to see the Commercial Fishing issue in polarized terms.

And one other point I'd like to clarify. A fair inference can be drawn from my statements that I believe a conspiracy exists between the academic community and NMFS. I don't believe there is an overt consciousness of conspiracy between them, at least not on the parts of most parties. I don't think, for example, the Director of NMFS sat down with the Administrator of Cluck U in some back alley smoky room and agreed that if Admin made sure his professors cooked their research then Director would make sure he got plenty grants.

What I believe actually happened is that NMFS unpreparedly and unexpectedly fell into this pile of money (import tariffs) and it was far more than anyone expected. It was only natural for NMFS to fund grants. They certainly weren't going to give it back to foreigners (in reality American consumers) or tell Congress "they really didn't need it so put it in the general Treasury." (Had they done so it really could have put the country in jeopardy when hundreds of Congressman and bureaucrats by the thousand keeled over dead at the shock.)

No I think it snuck up on them and soon implicit, but unspoken, understandings developed. While some may have realized what was going on, no one wanted to kill the golden goose. When research was shown to be clearly wrong one little (defensive) lie built on another until it was just too far to go back. Remember this is all taking place against a backdrop of hysterical ecos running around claiming the sky is falling beating the public into a frenzy.. It would have taken a great deal of political and financial courage (to say nothing of character) for them to admit they were wrong. Why question something when the answer can only damage you? "After all, who are we hurting? They're nothing but a bunch of greedy resource rapists anyway. Didn't you see the news last night."

And I believe it soon infected all parties just like an ugly prejudice until it has become so "normal" they don't even realize they are doing it anymore. It has poisoned their good sense. Now we're into a second generation who have known nothing different.


Dave C - 03:06pm Nov 2, 1998 PDT (#327 of 330)
Well, Gosta, I didn't mean to imply extremism when I said "one end" and I take it back, because it was just an anology and not important.

What I would dearly love to see would be a debate in this thread between yourself and a member or [un]official spokesperson for the NMFS. I know you wouldn't shy away from such a debate!

But I know it ain't gonna happen. I know enough about government jobs to know that even if you have left out some important and relevant facts of the matter, no civil servant is going to take the time to dispute you in this forum. What's the incentive for them?


Gösta H. Lovgren - 05:13pm Nov 2, 1998 PDT (#328 of 330)
Dave said: What I would dearly love to see would be a debate in this thread between yourself and a member or [un]official spokesperson for the NMFS. I know you wouldn't shy away from such a debate!

In the first place I will NOT DEBATE anyone on this matter. Debate is about winning, oneupsmanship, playing to the audience, and who can shout the loudest and make the best impression. I will DISCUSS it willingly and eagerly with anyone.

Dave said:But I know it ain't gonna happen. I know enough about government jobs to know that even if you have left out some important and relevant facts of the matter, no civil servant is going to take the time to dispute you in this forum. What's the incentive for them?

More than that they would face the very real threat of exposure and worse they risk having to admit their adult lives have been a despicable lie. A lie that has damaged not only fishermen, but the country. Far better to stay in a well paid cocoon and rationalize their lives than to risk the possibility of having to face the doubt that gnaws at their guts in those unguarded moments.


Dave C - 06:27pm Nov 2, 1998 PDT (#329 of 330)
If you are right, your cause is just.

Are there any lawmakers who share your point of view?


Gösta H. Lovgren - 05:05am Nov 3, 1998 PDT (#330 of 330)
Dave said: Are there any lawmakers who share your point of view?

Yes there are, and quite a few (privately) in my own experience, both in the state and Federal level. But what you enter into is the political arena where it all goes down. Effectively it's just not possible find relief there. Just look at the tremendous dynamic that has been built on overfishing (and not just the grant system, which in itself, is unsurmountable), there is NMFS & Commerce protecting the Golden Egg, the ecos protecting their turf, certain sections of the industry that have carved out monopolistic niches for themselves via the regulations, .... And I could go on quite a bit longer)

Realistically speaking the political capital required to change back (or into what it oughtta be) is just so great it's not worth the effort. Consider just one small example - A University is threatened with loss of a significant grant source if it were to change so it brings pressure to bear (and within a state it (can) have considerable resources, alumni, etc.) on its congressmen. The Congressman then has to weigh the loss of that support against the political support he will get from commercial fishermen who may not even reside in his state, not that there's enough Commercial Fishermen in any state (except maybe Alaska) to be a factor in politics.

Consider the political capital he would have to spend ("If you vote for my Fishery Bill I'll vote for your Sugar Subsidy." "Fine but then I won't be able to vote for your unpopular Bank Reform Bill because I'll have the University/ecos/business/.. on my ass and I can't afford to have them AND the bankers at the same time.") and the TIME (his most precious resource) he would have to spend is enormous. No, there's no hope of ever getting it straightened out again. None. It's just not worth it to him really. He has to worry about Trillion dollar budgets, deficits, war in Iraqistanosloviageria, schools falling down, racial quotas, immigration, ..... All vying for his attention. There are none so harried as Congressmen.

There's a whole lot more to it than that but you get the idea.


End of Overfishing Part I

(Well not really the end but enough for now {grin})
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Part 2


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